While Kansas lawmakers could not agree on a statewide drone ban earlier this year, the state's most liberal city wants to join a handful of other cities nationwide to ban the unmanned aircraft.
A coalition of Republican, civil rights and libertarian groups has joined with Kansans for Responsible Drone Use to push the Lawrence City Commission to enact a complete drone ban in city government. The move comes months after a bill to ban drone usage in Kansas did not come up for a vote in the state Legislature, following concerns that such a ban could hurt the state's drone industry.
Ben Jones, a spokesman for the drone group, told The Huffington Post that while the Lawrence government has expressed no interest in buying and using drones, the group is pressing the ban as a precaution to prevent future use. Among the groups joining the coalition are the Douglas County Republican Party, the Douglas County Libertarians, and the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice.
"There are concerns about the growing use of drones domestically," Jones told HuffPost. "We wanted to get common sense precautions in place before it became widespread."
Jones said that earlier this year, his group discussed a ban with the city commission, which agreed to revisit the issue after passing a budget, which occurred this summer. Among the issues the group is seeking is a ban on the city using drones until state guidelines are in place, on drone usage for surveillance and to obtain evidence, and on using weaponized drones, including those equipped to launch grenades or tear gas. Jones said the group supports allowing the city to use drones for emergency situations, including to combat terrorists and rescue hostages.
Lawrence Vice Mayor Mike Amyx and city Commissioner Jeremy Farmer both told HuffPost that the city commission is likely to discuss a ban soon. At the same time, they said they could not say if the commission would adopt such a ban. Amyx stressed the city does not own drones and there is no money in the budget to buy one, either for surveillance or to engage in combat.
Farmer said any drone ban would have to include a series of exemptions for emergency measures along with weather monitoring, assisting with accident investigations and helping the agriculture industry. But he said privacy precautions are needed.
"I can understand people's concerns of drones hovering over their homes and monitoring their private lives," he said.
Earlier this year, Charlottesville, Va., became the first city in the United States to adopt a drone ban. Since then, Seattle, Evanston, Ill., Iowa City, Iowa, and St. Bonifacius, Minn. are among the cities that have adopted bans. Jones said the group started in Lawrence, believing the city was receptive to a ban. He said if it is successful, the group plans to move on to other cities.
Earlier this year, legislation was introduced by state Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco) to ban drone usage in the state. Concerns immediately arose about the impact of such a ban on a drone training program at Kansas State University's Salina campus and the state's growing drone industry. Several other states that have discussed bans built in training exemptions to protect college and industry programs. The bill did not receive a vote and is likely to return in a revised form next year.
"It is exciting to see citizens taking an interest in their constitutional rights and the potential for abuse that the technology poses," Couture-Lovelady said. "I hope we can work to find common ground next session on a statewide solution that both protects the rights of Kansans and also allows law enforcement, emergency management, etc. the ability to use this technology to do their job more effectively."