Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a law that puts the state in charge of regulating drones, overriding municipal regulations in towns that had them.
Rauner signed Senate Bill 3291 Friday making the state the regulator of drones, also known as unmanned aircraft. The law, effective immediately, says “the regulation of an unmanned aircraft system is an exclusive power and function of the state.”
“No unit of local government, including home rule unit, may enact an ordinance or resolution to regulate unmanned aircraft systems,” the law states.
The measure carves out Chicago, preserving local authority in the state’s most populous city.
Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder said in the wake of increased drone availability and usage last year, Springfield passed restrictions barring drones over certain places, like its public utility. He said with the new law, those measures are void. The new law is a little disheartening, Langfelder said.
“And just to scrap our initiatives, it really steps on local authority and just to keep the general public safe and moving in that direction,” Langfelder said.
Drone enthusiast Zach Carlson, who manages Falcon Hobby Supply in Springfield, said the real regulation comes from the federal government when it concerns airspace.
“When we have all these other governments putting regulations on top of that, they’re actually violating the federal laws that are put in place,” Carlson said.
The state measure says the Illinois Department of Transportation may adopt rules it finds appropriate to address the safe and legal operation of unmanned aircraft systems “so that those engaged in the operation of unmanned aircraft systems may so engage with the least possible restriction, consistent with their safety and with the safety and the rights of others, and in compliance with federal rules and regulations.”
Federal law differs for commercial drone pilots and hobbyists. Details on federal regulations can be found at FAA.gov.
“No final decisions have been made, but the department intends to start the rules-making process shortly, likely seeking various stakeholder input as appropriate,” IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said in an email statement. “The department believes this new law will help create a consistent oversight framework throughout the state and eliminate the potential for a patchwork of varying local restrictions and ordinances on drone use.”
Langfelder said he plans to reach out to IDOT officials.
“Hopefully, they can act upon themselves as the overseeing department of really drilling down and making policy decisions and exceptions to what was written in the general state statute,” Langfelder said.
Carlson said he sees an increasing number of people coming into his store to get a drone.
“Farmers, engineers, construction workers, bikers, we’ve got every walk of life coming in,” Carlson said. “Racing drones are really popular, so we’ve got a lot of kids.”
He said he hopes that when the state does establish rules, officials will seek input from drone users.
“We’d be happy to help in any way we can to make sure the regulations aren’t too overreaching, but they’re enough to make sure the danger is taken out of the hobby,” Carlson said.
The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association applauded the new law Rauner signed.
“Drone technology is innovative and a growing part of today’s economy,” IMA Vice President Mark Denzler said in a statement. “The IMA is pleased that Gov. Rauner and lawmakers enacted legislation preventing overregulation of this growing high-tech sector.
“While federal regulations govern the use of drones for both commercial and personal use, individual states have the ability to impose some additional requirements such as bans on flying over certain types of facilities or recording and surveillance,” Denzler said.
Illinois lawmakers have so far failed to pass a measure regulating police using drones for surveillance of large crowds. Other ideas including banning police from attaching facial recognition software and weapons to drones also has stalled.
“With the signing of SB 3291, regulations will be done at the state level as opposed to a patchwork of local regulations that is currently found across Illinois,” Denzler said.