DES MOINES — A legislative panel took up the issue of drones Thursday as members agreed the devices had positive qualities but could be abused.
Members of a House public safety subcommittee are considering a bill that would allow law enforcement agencies and state official to use drones but only under certain circumstances, including life-threatening emergencies. In many cases, agencies would have to obtain warrants before using drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles.
The legislation also prohibits drones equipped with a weapon or used for harassment purposes and provides penalties if the law isn't followed.
Rep. Jerry Klein, R-Keota, said drones are increasingly accessible to the general public. That along with improved technology sparked a need for drone restrictions, he said.
Ankeny police chief Gary Mikulec told the panel that restricting drones could impair effective law enforcement. The devices are especially helpful in gathering evidence or information, he said.
For example, if toxic substances leak into water sources, law enforcement can send drones to assess the damage, he said.
"Any law enforcement should have the right to use a drone," Mikulec said. "It's a good place for it."
Other concerns brought before the panel related to public safety, air traffic and overall privacy. Klein said all concerns will be considered in changes to the measure.
Rep. Deborah L. Berry, D-Waterloo, said she simply wants to ensure drones aren't invasive in the lives of Iowans.
Klein called the bill a work in progress and said the subcommittee would meet next week to continue the discussion.
"I think we're going to get something done," Klein said. "It's just a matter of what."