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California's Governor Has Vetoed Three Proposed Drone Laws

Three new bills would have made it a crime to fly drones over wildfires, prisons, and schools. However, in a message Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown criticized the proliferation of new criminal laws.

Posted on October 3, 2015, at 10:23 p.m. ET

A drone above Old Bethpage, New York, on Sept. 5, 2015.
Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

A drone above Old Bethpage, New York, on Sept. 5, 2015.

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a handful of proposed laws that would have made it illegal to fly drones over wildfires, prisons, and schools.

The bill that would have outlawed flying drones over wildfires carried stiff penalties, with offenders facing up to six months in jail and $5,000 in fines.

It has moved through California's legislature at the tail end of a summer during which crews repeatedly had to call off airborne firefighting efforts due to drones buzzing above the flames. Drones became a problem during fires in Utah, Canada, and California. In one high-profile incident, drones were spotted above a blaze that destroyed cars after jumping across Interstate 15 in California's Cajon Pass.

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Lawmakers in California's Senate and Assembly passed the bill Sept. 11.

Another bill — also vetoed by Brown Saturday — would have made it a misdemeanor to fly a drone over a jail or prison. Lawmakers approved the bill in early September, just days after officials in Maryland arrested two people for plotting to smuggle contraband into a jail using a drone.

In August, a drone also dropped drugs into a prison yard in Ohio.

The final drone bill vetoed by Brown Saturday would have made it an infraction to fly an unmanned aircraft at low altitudes over schools.

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Sen. Ted Gaines, who sponsored the three bills, criticized the vetoes Saturday, saying on Twitter that "our laws must keep up" with technology.

Disappointed @JerryBrownGov chose to veto my drone bills. Our laws must keep up w/growing drone tech or else all of our safety is at risk.

How will @JerryBrownGov #SB168 veto look when drone puts the next public safety officer's life at risk? Or when next air tanker is grounded?

But in a message to lawmakers Saturday, Brown slammed the proliferation of new criminal laws.

Brown wrote that the bills would create new crimes "usually by finding a novel way to characterize and criminalize conduct that is already proscribed." He also said the laws would add complexity and that the state's criminal code covers almost, "every conceivable form of human misbehavior."

"Before we keep going down this road," Brown's messaged continued, "I think we should pause and reflect how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just, and more cost-effective."

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