Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) has introduced bills to regulate law enforcement’s use of drones in our state for each of the last three legislative sessions.
In the 2013 session a comprehensive bill he introduced to require a warrant for drone surveillance and to prohibit the use of weapons on drones failed. In 2015 a bill to restrict weapons on drones passed, only because it was amended to apply only to lethal weapons, it had the effect of making North Dakota the first state in the union to make the use of non-lethal weapons on drones by law enforcement explicitly legal.
After all, if the law only prohibits law enforcement’s use of lethal weapons, then non-lethal weapons are legal by omission.
Today Becker’s HB1167 came before the House floor to close that loophole for non-lethal weapons and it prompted some heated debate.
Rep. Kim Koppleman (R-West Fargo), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said there was “no need to further push a stick in the eye of our law enforcement.”
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Rep. Kim Koppleman (R-West Fargo), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said there was “no need to further push a stick in the eye of our law enforcement.”[/mks_pullquote]
Becker to exception to that characterization, calling it “unfortunate.”
Bill carrier Andy Maragos (R-Minot) said the bill “did not have the specificity that was required” and added that law enforcement officials were “very concerned” about a second section allowing for individuals using drones on weapons civilly liable for any damages or injuries caused.
It seems to me that the solution for those concerns is for law enforcement to not break the law prohibiting weapons on drones, but Becker said he would have been fine with getting rid of that section and noted that at least one law enforcement official testified before committee saying he was fine with the weapon prohibition itself.
Becker said he was “at a loss” as to why the committee didn’t amend the bill to remove the liability section.
Back to the weapons ban itself, Koppelman insisted that law enforcement has said they have no intent to weaponize drones in any way. “Law enforcement has said they have no intent to do this,” he said. “Do we want to tie their hands forever?”
What’s baffling about this debate is that law enforcement and their allies on this issue in the Legislature insist that nobody wants to put weapons on drones, be they lethal or non-lethal.
So why, then, is there so much resistance to Becker’s prohibition? And why the comment about tying law enforcement’s hands from Koppelman if there are no plans to put weapons on drones?
The bill failed on a 36-56 vote.
Here’s the video of the floor debate: