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County legislators retooling drone ban bill

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO The  County Legislature is looking once again to the legality of drones recording in public places.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO The County Legislature is looking once again into the legality of drones recording in public places.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has vetoed a widely-supported bill that banned the use of drones on county parkland, saying the law’s privacy stipulations would be unconstitutional.

Rather than attempt to override the veto, the bill’s sponsor, Thomas Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), is now working with Mr. Bellone’s office to tweak the bill to pass the Legislature again — and win the support of the county executive this time.

A spokesperson from Mr. Muratore’s office said a new version of the bill will focus on safety concerns posed by the unmanned aerial devices, instead of privacy. The new bill may be ready in time for Wednesday’s meeting of the County Legislature.

The original law passed by a 15-2 vote, with Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who represents the Island, abstaining. It banned drone use over county public beaches during the summer season and required drone operators to get permits from the County Parks Department if they wanted to fly over county-owned land.

At the time, legislators said the bill would protect beachgoers from being filmed without their consent, though an exception was made for credentialed news media. But in his August 28 veto, Mr. Bellone said residents have “no right to privacy in a public space.”

Mr. Bellone said he sympathized with “a family who wish to go to the beach wearing swimwear and find the notion of an overhead drone recording their activity to be disturbing.” But banning drones from filming would be unconstitutional, he wrote.

“It has long been recognized that citizens have the right to record or photograph in public spaces matters of public interest,” Mr. Bellone wrote.

“This legislation, albeit well-intentioned, infringes on that right … it is not just news organizations who have a First Amendment right to make and display photographs or videotapes of public events; we all do.”

Mr. Bellone said the Legislature would be free to enact public safety requirements regarding drones, but added he would not support drone legislation that cited privacy as its main concern. The new legislation is likely to reflect that view, in order to earn Mr. Bellone’s signature.

North Fork Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who voted in favor of the first legislation, said he was still worried by “security” problems posed by drones, and would vote in favor of legislation that curtails the perceived threat.

“It’s not just the security of someone taking your picture, it’s the security of it hurting someone,” Mr. Krupski said. “I think it is a danger. You don’t know whether the operator is properly qualified.”

Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport), a co-sponsor on the bill, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.