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KY Lawmakers Discuss Drone Technology

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The use of unmanned aircraft or “drones” hold tremendous potential to save time, money and lives…That’s what the head of government relations for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems told members of the Kentucky House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Mario Mairena is an industry advocate for the Virginia-based organization. He refuses to call the devices “drones” because he says it has a “hostile connotation”. Mairena prefers “unmanned aircraft systems”…

"UAS are used to perform dangerous and difficult tasks safely and efficiently. Firefighters use it to battle wildfires, search and rescue teams use it more quickly to locate missing children or lost hikers. UAS have been used to mitigate the impact of disasters such as hurricane Katrina, the flooding of the Red River North Dakota, and help to battle California wildfires. " -  Mario Mairena 

Mairena says the industry is likely to develop rapidly over the next two years and the jobs will go to states with the most friendly business climate for unmanned aircraft.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky does not oppose the use of unmanned aircraft to help with search and rescue operations, monitor crops, or manage wildlife…But it doesn’t want drones being used to collect personal information.

Kate Miller is program director for the Kentucky organization…

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"The ACLU has serious concerns about the use of unmanned drones to collect information about individuals. We believe that the pace at which surveillance technology has evolved, in recent years, far outstripped the pace in which laws have adapted to protect privacy." -  Kate Miller

Miller says the ACLU believes strict controls are needed to help guide law enforcement in its use of surveillance technology. She also testified in Frankfort Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee.

The Kentucky National Guard and U-S Army bases at Fort Campbell and Fort Knox are now using unmanned aircraft or drones for military purposes. However, the director of the Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs told state lawmakers in Frankfort Wednesday that would never be their major purpose in Kentucky.

Colonel David Thompson testified before the House Judiciary Committee…

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"Notably for Kentucky, it is estimated by industry experts that up to 80% of the initial markets for this UAS technology will fall in the agricultural sector. The ability to reduce input costs, raise profit margins, and potentially increase crop yields by using UAS in precision agriculture…will keep our farmers competitive and simply feed more people. " - Colonel David Thompson 

Colonel Thompson says Japan is now successfully using unmanned aircraft systems for that very reason.

State Representative Brent Yonts says drones present some exciting opportunities in Kentucky for life-saving operations, improvements in agriculture and economic development. However, the Muhlenberg County Democrat says he’s concerned about anything that could dilute the Fourth Amendment…

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"Literally in every way from cameras on corners that send you a parking ticket instantly…to the Patriot Act to a lot more things that…diluting down our individual rights and that’s the concern I have…that’s my focus on this issue." - Brent Yonts  

Yonts is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He made his comments during Wednesday’s hearing on the use of unmanned aircraft.