Legislation putting restrictions on law enforcement use of drones was revised by House-Senate conference committee on the final day of the 2013 legislative session, then approved by both chambers and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam.
Differing versions of the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act” (HB591) had been approved earlier by the House and Senate. The final version, approved late Friday, declares that drones can be used by law enforcement only when a search warrant has been obtained with four exceptions:
To “counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization” identified by the Department of Homeland Security.
When the law enforcement agency “possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life.”
To “provide continuous aerial coverage when law enforcement is searching for a fugitive or escapee or is monitoring a hostage situation.”
To “provide more expansive aerial coverage when deployed for the purpose
of searching for a missing person.”
The House version earlier had contained a provision allowing use of drones “to protect life and property during crowd monitoring situations,” which proponents at the time said would cover crowds during University of Tennessee football games. That was deleted in the final version.
The bill’s sponsors were Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, and Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet. They said the final product strikes a balance between allowing use of drones where needed for a legitimate purpose and avoiding governmental intrusion.
Tennessee currently has no statute dealing with drones, which are expected to become more widely used in the near future. The bill does not address use of drones by individuals or corporations, but the sponsors said they may propose legislation on that topic next year.
The House and Senate both unanimously approved Thursday a bill that sets rules Tennessee law enforcement agencies’ use of unmanned aerial surveillance aircraft, better known as drones.
As approved by the Senate, the bill (SB796) says that drones can only be used to search for a fugitive or a missing person, in monitoring a hostage situation or when a judge issues a search warrant authorizing them. Any information gathered otherwise by a drone cannot be used in court and must be destroyed within 24 hours, the bill says.
The House added an amendment saying they can also be used “to protect life and property during crowd monitoring situations.” In debate, crowds and traffic during University of Tennessee football games was cited as an example of where drone monitoring might be desirable.
The Senate will have to approve the House amendment before the bill goes to the governor for his signature.
Sponsors of the bill – Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, and Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough – said there is no law on the books in Tennessee dealing with drone surveillance, but one is needed with projections that thousands will be deployed in the years ahead.
Van Huss said he worked with drones while serving with the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I know that drones are a very effective tool in fighting against the bad guys and I do not want them to be a very effective tool in infringing on the personal liberties of my constituents and Tennessee citizens,” he said.
A bill to forbid United Nations representatives from observing Tennessee elections, approved by to state House panels previously, was killed when it came before a third on Tuesday.
The bill (HB589) would have made monitoring of a Tennessee election by a UN official a misdemeanor crime. It was sponsored by Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, who has said the idea came from tea party members in his district.
A UN-affiliated group sent two observers to Nashville last year to monitor elections – part of 42 persons sent around the United States to see if laws requiring photo ID to vote impacted elections.
“Frankly, the United Nations has no business doing that,” said Van Huss on Tuesday.
The bill was approved earlier this year by the House Local Government Subcommittee and the full Local Government Committee. But when it came before the Calendar Committee for scheduling a floor vote, it was instead sent to the Civil Justice Subcommittee on motion of Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. who chairs that panel.
When it came up there Tuesday, Lundberg told the panel that keeping the state’s election process open to observers is a way of showing others that the United States and Tennessee have “the best form of government” and that “we don’t have systematic problems.”
Some other members voiced similar sentiments, but Reps. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, said their distaste of UN tactics led them to support Van Huss’ bill.
Carter said “those nuts issue reports saying we’re committing fraud and we’re doing it right.”
“They’re sending individuals in for the sole purpose of destroying our system, to declare that we have human rights violations,” said Womick. “We’ve got some real nutjobs in charge of the UN and we don’t want them in here.”
By Kristin Hall, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers are preparing to take up a measure that seeks to restrict police agencies in the state from using unmanned drones and the sponsor is someone with experience piloting the planes.
It’s a hot topic both in Congress and on the state levels as the technology has rapidly outpaced regulations on the use of remotely piloted aircraft domestically. Currently, Tennessee law enforcement agencies are using drones rarely.
A House civil justice subcommittee on Wednesday pushed a vote on the proposal to next week. Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, is the sponsor.
The military has relied heavily on drones overseas, which Van Huss experienced firsthand as a former active duty Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently in the Marine Corps Reserves.
“I have actually piloted a drone myself in the Marine Corps,” he said. “Not one of those $7 million drones, but technically a surveillance drone.”
He said the technology has been a valuable tool on the battlefield, but he doesn’t want to see it used to target Americans.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation opposes legislation that would curtail law enforcement using drones in criminal investigations, reports Hank Hayes. State Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, has filed a “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act” scheduled to be considered Wednesday by a House Civil Justice Subcommittee.
Van Huss, a military veteran, did not respond to an email and phone call about why he filed the bill.
The bill would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather evidence or other information, but there are exceptions.
Drone use would be allowed if the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant, or if the agency has “reasonable suspicion” that swift action is needed to save lives, according to the bill.
The legislation says anyone “aggrieved by a violation of this bill” may initiate a civil action against a law enforcement agency to obtain relief as determined by a court.
Evidence obtained or collected in violation of the bill will not be admissible in a criminal prosecution, the bill adds.
Legislation making it a crime for United Nations representatives to observe elections in Tennessee has suffered a setback in the House while a bill banning all noncitizens from polling places has won approval in the Senate.
Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, said he introduced HB589 after learning the U.N. sent observers to Nashville for last November’s election to monitor for “human rights violations.” It makes election observation by a U.N. representative punishable as a misdemeanor.
News reports indicate a total of 44 U.N. observers were dispatched to the United States last fall, partly out of concern over laws requiring a photo ID for voting. One of those sent to Nashville was from France and the other from Armenia.
Van Huss’ bill had cleared the House Local Government Committee by voice vote after about 10 minutes of discussion with Democrats questioning the idea and Republicans generally praising it.
“The United Nations has no business in our polling places telling us anything,” declared Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga.
“If they’re looking for human rights violations, they’ve got hundreds of countries they can go to instead of America.”
But when the bill got to the House Calendar Committee, which routinely approves bills for the House floor with little discussion, Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he has “constitutional questions” about the measure. He made a motion to refer the measure to the House Civil Justice Committee, which Lundberg chairs.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Thompson’s Station and Rep. Matthew Hill, chairman of the Local Government Committee, both objected to the move. Casada said “this is kind of unprecedented” and Hill said the bill had already been “fully vetted” in his committee and a subcommittee.
But Calendar Committee Chairman Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said he believed there was “no ill will” on Lundberg’s part and it was appropriate to resolve any questions before a measure is sent to the floor. Lundberg’s motion carried and the bill goes to his committee this week.
The Senate, also last week, approved 24-3 a bill by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, (SB549) that prohibits people who are not citizens of the United States from entering a polling place in Tennessee.
The House companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, is up in the House Local Government Subcommittee later this week.
The United Nations wasn’t mentioned in Senate debate.
Bell said the bill was motivated by his belief in “American exceptionalism” and protecting the integrity of the ballot box. The bill includes a provision saying a noncitizen may enter a polling place to “provide assistance” to a qualified voter, which Bell said could include an interpreter or someone helping a voter with a disability.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, asked Bell if the bill would ban people from other countries observing elections to learn about democracy and how it works.
Bell said it would, though he said such people could still observe political campaigns and visit election facilities before voting day.
Van Huss was asked a similar question by Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, in the House Local Government Committee. Van Huss said he agreed with Ronald Reagan that “America is a shining city on a hill” for the rest of the world and his bill would not impact such observers because it is “specifically directed at the United Nations.”
In filing two bills in the legislature, freshman state Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesboro, is fulfilling a 2012 campaign promise to protect Tennessee from the United Nations if elected to the state House, reports Hank Hayes. Van Huss made that pledge at a tea party event in Kingsport last October and specifically spoke out against Agenda 21, a 20-year- old United Nations initiative advocating sustainable development.
The 34-year-old military veteran, who now serves House District 6 in Washington County, has filed two bills with intentions of keeping the United Nations out of the state.
Van Huss, in an e-mail, said he authored the bills “out of a desire to reinforce our eroding national sovereignty.”
He added: “I feel, as a lot of my constituents do, that the United Nations continues to put forth agendas that would infringe on our personal liberties; that’s not the freedom that I fought for, and not the freedom that my buddies gave their lives for.”
He cited a news story noting that the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a 44-member multinational delegation to the United States to monitor and observe America’s election process for human rights violations, voter suppression and election fraud.
Tennessee Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese, however, said Van Huss’ bills are a prime example of the GOP-controlled legislature not working to create jobs.
“They are concentrating on bad ideas that distract our legislature from doing the important work of putting Tennesseans back on the job,” Puttbrese said.
…When asked for a response to Van Huss’ bills, United Nations spokesman Farahn Haq emphasized his organization does not get involved in domestic legislation.
“In any country we try to follow a policy of noninterference with domestic legislative affairs,” Haq pointed out. “At the same time, we do work with the government of the United States, the federal government. … Since its founding in the 1940s, the United Nations has had a strong and productive relationship with the government of the United States and we hope to continue to do so.”