WASHINGTON, April 2, 2014 —Residents of the tiny Colorado town of Deer Trail, population 561, has voted down a proposal for the town to issue hunting licenses for unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.
The proposed law was written by Phillip Steel, a 49 year old welding inspector as a protest toward government surveillance after hearing reports that the United States government was planning on greatly expanding its use of domestic drones for aerial surveillance.
The issue would have set a bounty of $100 for a drone marked as belonging to the United States government.
The proposal went to a vote when town officials were split on whether or not to approve the plan last year.
On Tuesday the residents decided the issue by voting against it by a margin of 73 percent opposed 24 percent in favor.
Just over half of Deer Trail’s 350 registered voters turned out to vote on the proposed law.
Even if the voters had passed the law, it is not clear if it could have been enacted as it would have contradicted the 1946 Supreme Court ruling on United States v. Causby where The Court stated that air space had become a “public highway,” but landowners still had domain over “at least as much space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land.”In that case, the court held that a plane flying at just 83 feet and scaring the landowners chickens literally to death did constitute an invasion of property.
The court did not define the height in which ownership ends.
Steel had publically stated that the proposed law was based on “A 1964 Supreme Court decision” where “a property owner owns airspace up to 1,000 feet above the ground.” Although he did not clarify which Supreme Court case he was referring to.
Steel was most likely speaking of the 1962 case, Griggs v. Alleghany County, where the Court found that the low flight of planes over the plaintiff’s property, taking off from and landing at a nearby airport’s newly constructed runway, constituted a taking that had to be compensated under the Fifth Amendment. The conservative court in 1962 set the height standards that the federal government uses today although some lower courts believe that this case set standards for take offs and landings and continue to lend credence to a fixed-height ownership theory as a reasonable interpretation of Causby.
Today the federal government considers areas above 500 feet to be navigable airspace. Therefore the assumption is that property owners space ends somewhere between 83 and 500 feet unless you own some very tall buildings.
The federal government is considering lowering the navigable airspace limit to lower than 500 feet in order to accommodate drones.
Current FAA regulations require fixed wing aircraft to fly above 1,000 feet in congested areas and 500 feet in non congested areas.
The FAA does not currently regulate the safe flying altitude for drones as it does for other aircraft.
In February 2012, President Obama signed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) which instructs the FAA to define navigable air space for drones by the end of 2015.
Some believe that the drone hunting proposal was never intended to be considered as a serious law and instead was a playful way to gain attention over the displeasure of the government’s surveillance policy.
Washington state just passed a law in February limiting the use of federal government drones, becoming the tenth state to do so.
Forty-three states have at least introduced drone legislations.
Colorado is not a state that would shy away from controversial laws. In January 2014, Colorado stores started selling marijuana legally for recreational use.
Currently eleven rural Colorado counties are trying to get an initiative to secede and create a 51st state on the November ballot. This initiative came in part as a reaction to the passage of the strictest gun restrictions in the state for more than a decade in response to the deadly shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre.
Just last week, Colorado’s House Health Insurance and Environment Committee has passed a bill that would make it more difficult for parents to opt out of the state’s child vaccination requirement. The bill would mandate a state-sponsored education program for parents who don’t want their child vaccinated and would force those parents to “acquire the signature of a health care professional confirming disclosure of possible health risks ‘to the student and the community.’”