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What to do about drones? In Illinois, commission to help decide


From Illinois Business Journal news services

SPRINGFIELD – When the state’s Department of Natural Resources came to Sen. Julie Morrison and asked her to sponsor a ban on using drones for hunting, she agreed, thinking it was a simple idea that would be supported by both hunters and environmentalists as it had been in other states.

As far as it went, that much was true: Hunters see using drones as cheating, and environmentalists like that animals get a more sporting chance to escape. What neither Morrison nor the department anticipated is that every group interested in using drones would see the legislation as the first move toward state regulation of the new technology.

“I couldn’t believe how many people were interested in this legislation,” Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat, said. “Most of them didn’t care about the hunting ban. They wanted to have a wider conversation about the role of drones in our society.”

Instead of banning drones for hunting, Morrison began working with Rep. Brandon Phelps, from Harrisburg in far southern Illinois, to put together a commission to write comprehensive rules for the use of drones in Illinois.

By the time Morrison and Phelps finished negotiating the composition of the task force, the legislation called for representation from a diverse array of stakeholders from across the state — law enforcement, aviation, economic development, farmers, utility companies and railroad company representatives.

“This is a new technology has great potential to improve our society and become a useful tool for businesses, but it also comes with real safety and privacy concerns. We need common-sense regulations to keep people safe,” Morrison said. “This task force will craft a comprehensive law that supports businesses and private drone users while protecting the public.”

The law was Senate Bill 44. The task force will begin meeting as soon as its members are named, and it will submit its recommendations by July 1, 2016.

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