Inslee vetoes Legislature's controls on official drones

He says a bill with overwhelming bipartisan support was too complicated.
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Drone peeping

He says a bill with overwhelming bipartisan support was too complicated.

Washington's Legislature will have to take another crack at regulating governments' flying of drones next year. Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a bipartisan drone regulatory bill Friday, saying its language was too contradictory and ambiguous to be effective.

"This is one of the most complicated bills in our state, he said. Inslee added, "It's a difficult subject because there are 10,000 scenarios involved.".

Inslee ordered a 15-month moratorium on state agencies buying drones, except in emergencies such as wildfires. He will also appoint a task force this year to study drone issues, and he hopes to have a bill passed on the subject in 2015. "We obviously have the desire not to have drones parking outside our kitchen windows by state agencies," he said.

Inslee said he had a drone of unknown origin flying within a few feet of him two years ago when he was paddling with a group on the Nisqually River, and never found out who controlled it.

Democratic Rep. Jeff Morris, chair of the state House's Technology and Economic Development Committee, criticized the veto of the bill introduced by Rep. David Taylor, R- Moxee, whose measure had gained co-sponsors among both rural conservative and urban liberal lawmakers. The House passed the bill 77-21, and the Senate approved it 46-1. 

“I am very disappointed that Gov. Inslee vetoed this well-worked, forward-looking legislation that was intended to protect citizens from being spied on by their government without legal approval," Morris said in a press release.  

He said the measure specifically permitted the use of drones for forest-fire surveillance, wildlife management, military training and emergencies proclaimed by the governor. On Twitter, House Republicans also expressed disappointment over the veto. 

Taylor's bill would have prohibited a government agency from buying a drone without permission of its governing body, such as the Legislature, a city council. or a county commission. Drones could have been bought and used only for specific purposes. Police agencies would have needed warrants to use drones for surveillance purposes, except in emergencies. The bill would have allowed drone use in rural emergencies such as wildfires or rescues. Personal information gathered by drones outside of the scope of a warrant would be destroyed. And extensive record keeping would have been required.

The bill also called for a work group to study legal issues pertaining to drones.

Morris promised to "continue working to ensure that we control technology; technology doesn’t control us.” Since the Legislature has already adjourned its 2014 session, there is little opportunity to try to override the veto, except if two-thirds of the members in each chamber of the Legislature were to petition to hold a short special session limited to reconsidering bills that have been vetoed. Lawmakers aren't scheduled to return until the 2015 session in January.

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Under the Dome page.

This article has been updated since it first appeared to clarify the circumstances in which vetoes can be overriden.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8