Legislature's public hearing addresses possible creation of drone regulations for Wisconsin

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MADISON, Wisconsin — Wisconsin lawmakers hinted Wednesday at the potential for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to take off in the state once they decide how to regulate them.

Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy chairman Rep. Adam Neylon, a Pewaukee Republican, said at a public hearing that Wisconsin is in a "great spot to embrace drones" as the Federal Aviation Administration begins granting broader permission to use the devices.

Neylon said many businesses have explored the technology, but previous FAA bans as well as state law prevent them from using drones. A 2013 state law bans drones that are capable of audio and video recording in areas where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The FAA last year began granting permits on a case-by-case basis to companies that want to use drones. Under streamlined rules, the FAA will grant blanket flying permission to applicants with drones that weigh less than 55 pounds and agree to fly at heights of less than 200 feet, to fly only in daytime, and to keep it away from airports. That means some Wisconsin companies could use drones if state regulation permitted them.

Each state has the ability to regulate drone use within its borders.

With proper safety regulation, drones could benefit many state industries — including land surveillance, photography, farming, open pit mining and others — experts said. And though many favored minimal restrictions, all six speakers from Wisconsin said they'd accept any form of regulation if it meant drones could be used in the state.

Joseph Hupy, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor who works in drone technology and geography, said those interested in using drones want minimal restrictions and prompt legislative action.

"They're not looking for the Wild West, they're looking for a clear set of rules and regulations that they can follow," Hupy said.

Paul Braun, vice president of Continental Mapping, said his business, like many others, has the technology to move forward using drones.

"I can't make money on this right now, because the regulations don't allow it," Braun said.

Neylon said he'd consider the testimony as the committee looks at drafting regulations. No one at the hearing spoke against the measure, though some pointed to potential concerns of privacy.


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