Missouri bill would ban drone use near state prisons

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers are expected to consider legislation to restrict the use of drones near state prisons after recent sightings sparked concern among corrections officials that weapons or drugs were being dropped inside the grounds.

Republican Rep. Mike Henderson introduced a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to knowingly fly a drone within 300 vertical feet and near the furthest perimeter of prisons, the St. Joseph News-Press reported . The legislation would also add felony charges for attempting to drop contraband into state prison grounds.

The Missouri Department of Corrections has reported 11 drone sightings near state prisons since 2016, but there have been no confirmed cases of dropped contraband, according to agency spokeswoman Karen Pojmann.

"We haven't made any direct or confirmed connections between unmanned aircraft and contraband, but it's certainly possible that contraband has been brought in by unmanned aircraft that weren't spotted," Pojmann said. "Drugs have been found inside balls used for athletic activity, for example, or have appeared on the ground with no clear point of origin."

Henderson said the proposed legislation includes exemptions so law enforcement can fly drones over the facilities, should there be a riot or other situations.

Legislators will consider the bill in the coming weeks. If passed, Missouri would be among about a dozen states to regulate drones near state prisons, mirroring federal laws passed last year by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"As technology keeps changing, sometimes we just have to update the law, and that's all we're really doing here is trying to update the law in a commonsense way to make sure we keep the people in the correctional facilities safe, both the officers and the offenders," Henderson said.
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Information from: St. Joseph News-Press/St. Joe, Missouri, http://www.newspressnow.com

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