A controversial bill that would make Connecticut the first state in the nation to permit police to use weaponized drones has stalled.
The measure is being “held” by the legislature’s public safety committee, a parliamentary move that could doom its chances for passage this year.
“Obviously, this particular bill is dead for now,” said Rep. Joe Verrengia, the West Hartford Democrat and co-chairman of the committee. “There were just so many questions that committee members had. It was difficult to find consensus.”
Connecticut has grappled for years with the legal implications associated with the growing use of remote-controlled drones, by both law enforcement and members of the public. The weaponization provision is part of House Bill 7260, a broader proposal that would have set rules regarding the use of these devices.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut backed the underlying legislation until the weaponization provision was slipped in fairly late in the legislative process by the judiciary committee; it was approved by a vote of 34 to 7 in March.
“It got hijacked at the judiciary committee to allow police to use weaponized drones,” said David McGuire, executive director of the civil liberties group. “Today’s swift action made clear that legislators on both sides of the aisle have problems with the concept of giving people the power to use drones with lethal force….we view this as a victory.”
If the bill had become law, Connecticut would have become the first state in the nation to allow the use of weaponized drones by law enforcement. North Dakota legalized police use of armed drones in 2015, but the law limits those weapons to less lethal technologies, such as rubber bullets and tear gas. The Connecticut measure contains no such restrictions.
This bill would have addressed other issues related to the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. It would have made the operation of a weaponized drone by members of the public a class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, up to a $10,000 fine, or both. It would have allowed police to use the technology if they obtain a warrant and operate within certain parameters.
Supporters said they could envision a number of benefits to allowing police to use unmanned drones, including dismantling a bomb in an area police could not otherwise reach, attaching a Taser to a drone to incapacitate a subject, shooting down another drone that had weapons, or finding a missing hiker in dense forest by sensing body heat.
Under the bill, police would not be using lethal drones right away. First they would need to have guidelines established by the Police Officer Standardized Training Council by January 2018, and then individual officers would need to be trained.
The public safety committee’s failure to act on the measure essentially dooms it, although a proposal to addresses drone use could come up again before the legislature adjourns on June 7, Verrengia said.