Iowa lawmakers look to restrict drone flights over homes and farms

People could get charged criminally or lose their right to use a drone if they fly over somebody's home or farm without permission under the rules of the bill.
Published: May. 2, 2023 at 4:57 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - New legislation in the Iowa legislature would make it a crime to fly drones in certain situations.

House File 572 will charge people with a simple misdemeanor if somebody flies a drone over somebody else’s farm or home outside city limits. The charges become more severe if the drone has a surveillance device attached, like a camera. The bill would also allow a judge to not allow somebody to fly for two years if somebody sues claiming harassment because somebody flew over their property.

Rep. Derek Wulf (R-Black Hawk County) said the purpose of the bill is to protect farmers’ privacy.

“I believe this bill is a step in the right direction to protect Iowa’s farmers and ranchers as they work every day to protect the safety and security of their livestock and the operation they take pride in,” Wulf said.

An original version of the bill didn’t include the carve-out for structures within city limits, which was a concern for drone pilots like Bridger Hawkinson. He said he owns Hawkinson Aerial Photography in Dubuque and he was concerned the legislation would affect his business.

“My biggest frustration is just having the state come in and figure out what they want to do with drone regulations,” Hawkinson said. “I don’t think they should be having any say in it.”

The federal government, specifically the F-A-A, oversees airspace. However, local lawmakers can restrict where drones are able to land or take off. This law has a variety of exceptions including if somebody gets permission from the property owner, if the pilot is part of a state entity or if the pilot is collecting data about the climate or weather conditions.

The law also allows groups to fly if the drone is higher than 400 feet, which is higher than the Alliant Tower at 272 feet. Pilots could need a waiver from the FAA if they would like to fly higher than 400 feet.

Hawkinson along with other small businesses encouraged lawmakers to insert language into the bill, which would only put the restrictions on rural areas. He would later help create Iowans for Drone Freedom to help educate lawmakers about future bills.

“We created a compromise on how to suit both needs and how it would not affect the rights of the drone community,” Hawkinson said.

The bill passed the House with bipartisan support in an 87 to 10 vote, but it hasn’t passed the Senate yet.