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School boards, cities sought to stop Gov. Abbott from signing drone bill

Organizations representing hundreds of Texas cities and school boards unsuccessfully urged Gov. Greg Abbott to veto a bill aimed at restricting drone use around the state.

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Organizations representing hundreds of Texas cities and school boards unsuccessfully urged Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month to veto a bill aimed at restricting drone use around the state, worried the measure would tie the hands of local governments and schools in dealing with the increasingly popular technology. 

House bill 1643, which Abbott ultimately signed, makes  it a crime in Texas to fly drones over many large industrial facilities including cattle feeding lots, and oil and gas drilling sites.

The Texas Municipal League, the Texas Association of School Boards, and the City of Plano all urged Abbott veto HB 1643, according to correspondence to Abbott's office obtained by The Texas Tribune through an open records request

While the bill largely focuses on restricting drone usage in certain sites, cities and school districts are worried that the new law could actually allow more widespread — and dangerous — drone usage in their communities.

In addition to the provisions about cattle, oil and gas facilities, HB 1643 also bars municipalities from making their own rules about drone operation except under certain exceptions such as for special events.

“The bill’s requirements would hinder school districts’ ability to quickly respond to safety and privacy risks to our students and communities,” Jim de Garavilla, chairman of the Texas Association of School Boards' legislative committee, wrote to Abbott. “Schools cannot rely on existing federal and state laws to address all of the safety and privacy risks.”

Garavilla noted that Texas school districts have seen an increase in drone use by " students, employees and third parties on campuses in recent years," raising concerns about safety and privacy.

The groups also argued that the FAA allows local governments to regulate drone use.

“The FAA, in its final rule on drones, clearly signaled that there is some room for city governments to legislate on this issue,” Bennett Sandlin, the executive director of the Municipal League, wrote in the letter.

Despite the urgings from the three groups, Abbott signed the bill on June 15. it will go into effect in September.

Edgar Walters contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The Texas Municipal League and the Texas Association of School Boards have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/06/30/school-board-association-municipal-league-sought-stop-drone-bill/.

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