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Assembly rejects McAuliffe’s drone recommendations

April 16, 2015

By: Cameron Vigliano, Ashley Jordan, Stefani Zenteno
The General Assembly has rejected Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s recommendation to give police a freer rein in using unmanned aircraft.

Both the House and Senate rejected changes that the Democratic governor proposed to legislation regarding when law enforcement agencies must get a warrant to use a drone. McAuliffe’s amendments drew opposition from members of both parties.

SB 1301, introduced by Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, and HB 2125, sponsored by Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, originally said that government agencies would need a search warrant to use drones for “law enforcement” activities.

But McAuliffe changed “law enforcement” to “active criminal investigations.” Some privacy advocates said this could open the door for law enforcement officials to use drones without a warrant for surveillance and other purposes outside of active investigations.

The House voted 28-69 to reject McAuliffe’s amendments of HB 2125, and the Senate voted 12-27 against the governor’s recommendations of SB 1301.

The votes occurred Wednesday as Virginia lawmakers gathered for a one-day marathon session to consider McAuliffe’s vetoes and recommendations of legislation passed during the General Assembly’s 2015 session.

Many of McAuliffe’s amendments were meant to fix technical errors; they passed without debate. But bills involving personal privacy and new technology generated a lot of discussion in the House and Senate.

One such bill was HB 1673, proposed by Delegate Richard L. Anderson-R. Among other things, it sought to restrict law enforcement and regulatory agencies from using “any surveillance technology” to collect or maintain personal information without a warrant.

McAuliffe recommended replacing the term “any surveillance technology” and with “license plate readers.” That amendment had delegates reaching across the aisle to express disapproval.

“It’s not often that Dels. Bob Marshall and Betsy Carr advocate on the same side of an issue,” said Carr, a Democrat from Richmond. “However, there are some important nonpartisan principles that both ends of the political spectrum join to come together. Our right of privacy and maintaining a free democracy is one of these places.”

But other delegates like fellow Democrat Vivian E. Watts of Annandale supported the governor’s amendments. Watts said lawmakers should target how law enforcement officials use the data they collect – not whether they can collect it in the first place. The data “could be used for protecting our public safety,” she noted.

The General Assembly should not legislate based on “the suspicion that if the data exist, it will be used for no good,” Watt explained.

Both the House and the Senate upheld some of the governor’s recommendations concerning HB 1673, while defeating others.

To the surprise of many, the General Assembly must reconvene Friday to consider changes McAuliffe made to the ethics reform package that emerged from this year’s legislative session.

As passed, the ethics bill would prohibit legislators and other public officials from accepting a gift worth more than $100. McAuliffe wanted to make this a yearly aggregate cap, so that lawmakers couldn’t take more than $100 in gifts annually from a single donor. However, his amendment was worded as a lifetime aggregate cap of $100.

Legislators hope to hash out the wording on Friday.

During Wednesday’s session, the General Assembly upheld all 17 of McAuliffe’s vetoes. As a result, these bills passed in January and February won’t become law after all:

● SB 724 and HB 1752, which would have prohibited the State Board of Education from adopting any common core standards without approval from the General Assembly.

● SB 948, which sought to prohibit Virginia from sharing records of who holds a concealed weapons permit with certain out-of-state police agencies.

● HB 1628, known as the “Tebow Bill.” It sought to allow home-schooled students to play sports and participate in other extracurricular activities at their local high school.

● SB 1059, which would have placed limitations on how the Office of the Attorney General or the governor hires special counsel.