In the Trenches: Fighting Drones in the Legislature
In Maine a Drone Victory (of Sorts)
Yesterday the Maine House of Representatives passed our drone bill 115-33. It was a mixed victory.
On the positive side, the long sought police warrant requirement was in the bill which would allow law suits against the police if they violate the warrant provisions. The bill also has a two-year moratorium on police use of drones in Maine.
On the negative side, the bill carried an amendment that allows testing of weaponized drones in Maine. The bill language reads something like this: An unmanned aerial vehicle may not employ the use of facial recognition technology or be equipped with a weapon except ….. for the purposes of research, testing, training or manufacturer of such vehicles.
I was told that the office of Gov. LePage (Republican) wrote the weaponized drone language. He is likely to sign the bill because of the inclusion of that language. Many Tea Party activists across the state strongly supported the bill’s warrant requirements which ensured many Republicans in the legislature would support it.
I must say that the ACLU in Maine was instrumental in getting this bill passed. They pushed very hard for the police warrant requirement and from my understanding Maine is now the first state legislature in the country to pass such a bill. I worked directly with Shenna Bellows from the ACLU for months on this and our role was to help build the grassroots support for the bill. All indications are that the continual grassroots pressure was a key to building deep and wide support in the legislature for the warrant requrement.
But we did not always agree on the bill language. The ACLU really wanted the warrant requirements and in the end they had to settle for the drone weapons testing in order to get what they wanted. The weapons testing was not an issue the ACLU would draw the line for. Just yesterday we in the peace community were asked by state House leadership to agree to the drone weaponization language and I said that it was not possible. I told Rep. Seth Berry (Democrat) that “I appreciate your position but you must know that I represent a constituency as well. I’d be hung from the nearest light pole if I endorsed lingo to allow the weaponization of drones. I can’t morally or ethically do it.”
Sometimes even progressive groups don’t agree on everything and you have to work together as best you can. Shenna tried hard to have our voice included in the middle of the negotiations but in the end the ACLU decided to set a precedent by getting a bill passed somewhere in the country with the warrant requirement in it.
So in the end the Maine police can’t spy on you without a warrant but the drone industry and the military can freely practice killing you with Hellfire missiles. Such is the sausage making business.
Our next steps will be to organize an anti-drone presence in the Bath July 4 parade and then do a Maine drone peace walk from Limestone to Augusta on October 10-19. We will stay on the drone issue in Maine. It’s not over by a long shot.