East Lansing City Council Ordinance No 1369
After more than a year in the making, the challenge to Genesee County’s drone ordinance has resulted in a huge win for drone operators. Genesee County Parks may no longer enforce their ordinance that disallowed the use or possession of drones. On Feb 10, 2020, Judge Joseph Farah granted a permanent injunction that was sought out by a coalition of drone operators in Michigan after one of their own, Jason Harrison, was handcuffed, detained, and had both his drone and all electronics confiscated for legally flying in a Genesee County park back in December of 2018.
The drone operators formed the MCDO (Michigan Coalition of Drone Operators) and brought suit against the county regarding their ordinance. Michigan
law specifically prohibits local government from creating or enforcing their own drone ordinance in MCL 259.305 which is part of Act 436 passed in 2016 that covers unmanned aerial vehicles. Genesee
County had attempted to argue that they were exempted from the state law. Hearings held back in October and November looked deeply into both the county’s interest to restrict drones and into the
wording of the state law preempting the county’s ordinance.
A very short one day respite from the ordinance was imposed by Judge Farah covering a few hours on Thanksgiving Day of 2019 for an event called Moundsgiving where off road vehicles flock to a park called the Mounds within the Genesee County parks system. The county was enjoined from barring drone operators from flying to catch all the action of the event provided that they follow FAA regulations. Despite that order parks police did still make an initial attempt to enforce the park ban and confronted Ryan Latourette and Jason Bates, both members of MCDO. After showing the officers the temporary injunction operators continued to fly without further incident.
Now nearly three months after hearings on the lawsuit completed the decision is final. The State law specifically preempting all local ordinance on drones was found to be the rule of law. It is so ordered that local subdivisions may not create or enforce their own drone ordinances in the State of Michigan due to state law MCL 259.305. A total of 17 states across the nation have the same or very similarly worded state preemption law. While this case sets precedent only for the State of Michigan, it creates a very distinct signal that localities in other states with the preemption clause could find themselves in legal trouble attempting to enforce it. And the hope now is for the other 33 states to take up legislation to pass state preemption language similar to Michigan to ensure that there isn’t a patchwork of drone ordinances that endanger the national airspace (as was previously warned by the FAA). This day is a huge celebration for the rule of law and legal drone operations.
Drones in the news
August 2020 - Bald eagle takes down Michigan government drone
Where just the name of the bill or resolution is hyperlinked in black that means that it is not yet law!
Note that bills that are now law are changed to blue font
SB 992 - creates the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act. Prohibits localities from regulating UAS, except when the regulated drone belongs to the locality. It specifically permits commercial operation in the state if the operator is authorized by the FAA to operate commercially and permits hobby operation so long as the operator complies with federal law. The law prohibits using a drone in a way that interferes with emergency personnel and it also prohibits the use of a drone to harass an individual, to violate a restraining order, or to capture images in a way that invades an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy. The law also prohibits sex offenders from using a drone to follow, contact or photograph a person that they are prohibited from contacting. Anyone who uses a drone in a prohibited way is guilty of a misdemeanor. The law also creates the unmanned aircraft systems task force to "develop statewide policy recommendations on the operation, use, and regulation" of UAS in the state. It specifies the members of the task force, the length of appointment and other specifics related to the task force.
On April 14, 2015 the Governor of Michigan signed Senate Bill (SB) 54 (download below) into Public Act 12 of 2015, effective July 13, 2015. Public Law 12 is an act to amend 1994 PA 451, entitled “An act to protect the environment and natural resources of the state; to codify, revise, consolidate, and classify laws relating to the environment and natural resources of the state; to regulate the discharge of certain substances into the environment; to regulate the use of certain lands, waters, and other natural resources of the state; to protect the people’s right to hunt and fish; to prescribe the powers and duties of certain state and local agencies and officials; to provide for certain charges, fees, assessments, and donations; to provide certain appropriations; to prescribe penalties and provide remedies; and to repeal acts and parts of acts,” by amending sections 40112 and 48703a (MCL 324.40112 and 324.48703a), section 40112 as amended by 1996 PA 316 and section 48703a as amended by 2014 PA 281.
SB 54 prohibits using UAS to interfere with or harass an individual who is hunting.
On April 14, 2015 the Governor of Michigan signed Senate Bill (SB) 55 (download below) into Public Law 13 of 2015, which went into effect on July 13, 2015. Public Law 13 is an act to amend 1994 PA 451, entitled “An act to protect the environment and natural resources of the state; to codify, revise, consolidate, and classify laws relating to the environment and natural resources of the state; to regulate the discharge of certain substances into the environment; to regulate the use of certain lands, waters, and other natural resources of the state; to protect the people’s right to hunt and fish; to prescribe the powers and duties of certain state and local agencies and officials; to provide for certain charges, fees, assessments, and donations; to provide certain appropriations; to prescribe penalties and provide remedies; and to repeal acts and parts of acts,” by amending section 40111c (MCL 324.40111c), as added by 2008 PA 301.
SB 55 prohibits using UAS to take game.
House Resolution (HR) 280 - resolution to support and endorse the proposal submitted by the Michigan Advanced Aerial Systems Consortium requesting that Michigan be named one of six federally identified UAS test sites -2013
House Resolution (HR) 87 - resolution to declare April 15, 2013, as Robotics Day in the State of Michigan -2013
Sarah Nilsson, J.D., Ph.D., MAS
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