In Blog, Government
Governor DeSantis recently signed Senate Bill 44, which revises sections 934.50 and 330.41, Florida Statutes. Prior to these revisions, the law generally prohibited authorities from using drones to gather evidence or other information, with limited exceptions. Effective July 1, 2021, the amended statutes directly impact municipalities by expanding the authorized use of drones by police departments and governmental agencies, as well as by owners and/or operators of critical infrastructure. The amended statute defines a governmental agency as “any state, county, local, or municipal governmental entity or any unit of government created or established by law that uses a drone for any purpose.” Furthermore, revised section 934.50, Florida Statutes, also creates new standards under which a governmental entity may purchase or obtain a drone, and imposes additional duties upon municipalities under certain circumstances.

Summary of Changes Affecting Municipal Governments

Purchase/Obtaining Drones
  • A governmental agency (including municipalities and their police departments) (hereinafter, “Agency” or “Agencies”) will be able to purchase/obtain a drone only from a list of approved manufacturers who satisfy specific security standards.
    • These approved vendors are to be compiled and posted by the Department of Management Services (the “Department”) by January 1, 2022.
  • If an Agency uses a drone not manufactured by an approved vendor, the Agency must submit to the Department a comprehensive plan for discontinuing its use.
    • Rules identifying the requirements of this comprehensive plan are to be adopted by the Department.
  • All Agencies must have discontinued the use of non-approved drones by January 1, 2023.
  • Agencies are to comply with general rules and minimum security standards to be established by the Department.
Use of Drones
  • Newly revised section 934.50, Florida Statutes, now allows for drones to be used:
    • To provide aerial perspective of a crowd of 50 or more persons;
      • The head of the Agency using the drone in this fashion must provide written authorization for such use and maintain a copy on file at the Agency;
      • Furthermore, the Agency must have policies and procedures for such use in place, that include guidelines:
          • For the Agency’s use of a drone;
          • For the proper storage, retention, and release of any images or video captured by the drone; and
          • That address safety and constitutional protections of the people being observed.
    • To assist with traffic management;
      • But the agency may not issue a traffic infraction based upon drone captured video or images;
    • To facilitate collection of evidence at a crime scene;
    • For the assessment of damage that is the subject of a state of emergency, before the expiration of the emergency declaration;
    • For the assessment of vegetation or wildlife management on publicly owned land or water; and
    • By certified fire department personnel to perform tasks within the scope and practice authorized under their certifications
Each Agency should monitor the Department’s website for posting of the approved vendors, applicable rules, and standards to ensure their compliance with the new statutes. See https://www.dms.myflorida.com/ for further information.

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