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New Suffolk bill would put limits on drone use

A proposed Suffolk County bill would place restrictions

A proposed Suffolk County bill would place restrictions on camera-carrying drones at county-owned beaches and parks. Above, a small drone that crashed onto the White House grounds in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. Credit: AP / U.S. Secret Service

A proposed Suffolk bill would ban camera-carrying drones from county-owned beaches during the peak season and would require users to obtain a permit to fly them at county parks.

The bill also would ban the use of drones by civilians at other county facilities, such as jails and the H. Lee Dennison building.

Bill sponsor Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) said it is the result of meeting with hobbyists and others who opposed the original version of the bill because it did not have a process for getting permission to fly.

"Our primary concern is privacy," Muratore said. "I think most of the public will support us on this."

The parks department would establish the rules for applying for permits.

The restrictions would not apply to those who use drones as part of a contract with the county or are media credentialed by the Suffolk, Nassau or New York City police departments. The ban over beaches would be in effect between May 15 and Sept. 15, because, Muratore said, he is worried about drones invading bathers' privacy.

The restrictions would only apply to unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with cameras flying under 500 feet of the ground, or under 300 feet within three miles of an airport. Airport air space above that is controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to legislative spokeswoman Katie Baker. Fines would range from $250 to $500.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who owns a drone and led legislative opposition to Muratore's original bill, said he is still undecided about how he'll vote.

He agrees with the ban over beaches in the summer months and at county buildings. But he said, "I still don't think someone should have to get permission to fly a radio-controlled aircraft over a county park for legitimate purposes of aerial photography of nature . . . In general, the FAA should be regulating airspace use and not Suffolk County."

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he supports the bill after meeting with drone hobbyists. "This is a reasonable middle ground," he said. "It's important to protect privacy."

The county legislature will hold a public hearing on the law at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the William H. Rogers Building in Hauppauge. The law could receive a final vote at September's meeting.

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