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Home » Learn About Iowa’s Proposed Drone Legislation

Learn About Iowa’s Proposed Drone Legislation

Read the Bills

Iowa Senate Bill SF520

Full text of the Iowa Senate Bill SF520 can be found at the Iowa Legislature BillBook.

Iowa House Bill HF572

Full text of the Iowa House Bill HF572 can be found at the Iowa Legislature BillBook.

Points of Interest

Homestead

“Homestead” is defined so broadly as to include virtually all residences, not just farmsteads, plus 400 feet of surrounding property. In rural Iowa, this may not affect all drone operations, but in urban Iowa this could make nearly all drone operations considered intrusion and surveillance.

The version of the bill that the Iowa House of Representatives passed in 2023 adds “and not located within the corporate limits of a city”, which certainly helps, but still leaves large areas of Iowa where towns and neighborhoods have expanded but are not technically inside of corporate city limits.

“Homestead” means property which is a dwelling owned or leased by a person that is used as the principal residence for a person and includes up to four hundred feet of surrounding property owned or leased by the person.

Update: the latest definition of “Homestead” adds:

…and not located within the corporate limits of a city. 

Iowa House File 572

Surveillance Device

As we’ll see later, almost all drones these days contain “surveillance devices” (cameras).

   6.  “Surveillance device” means a camera or electronic equipment that transmits or records images, sounds, or data if the transmission or recording is capable of reasonably identifying any of the following:
   a.  The identity, physical appearance, conduct, or voice of an individual.
   b.  The species of an agricultural animal.
   c.  The unique physical characteristics of land or an improvement to land.

Iowa House File 572

Intrusion

Remember, a homestead in the city is up to 400′ of surrounding property, not limited to rural Iowa. As a real estate photographer, it is necessary for me to fly over neighboring lots at nearly every job I use a drone at (think of taking a group photo, you have to back up to get everyone in the picture).

For property inspections and mapping, it is impossible to get some of the needed data without crossing property lines.

If you are flying a drone recreationally, if your drone drifts over your property line, guess what – you’re Intruding (or, as we’ll see, surveilling)

    Sec. 2.  NEW SECTION.  715D.2  Intrusion by use of remotely piloted aircraft —— offense.
   1.  A person commits intrusion by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft if the person knowingly does any of the following:
   a.  Controls the flight of a remotely piloted aircraft over a homestead.
   b.  Controls the flight of remotely piloted aircraft over a secure farmstead area.
   2.  a.  A person who commits intrusion by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft is guilty of a simple misdemeanor.
   b.  Notwithstanding paragraph “a”, a person who commits intrusion by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft is guilty of a serious misdemeanor if the person has previously been convicted of any of the following:
   (1)  Intrusion by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft as provided in this section.
   (2)  Surveillance by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft as provided in section 715D.3.

Iowa House File 572

Surveillance

Again, try to find a drone that does not have a camera. So that’s most of the multi rotor (quadcopter) drones. Guess what – you are not simply committing “intrusion”, you are committing “surveillance by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft”. And that is automatically a serious misdemeanor.

    Sec. 3.  NEW SECTION.  715D.3  Surveillance by use of remotely piloted aircraft —— offense.
   1.  A person commits surveillance by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft if the person knowingly does any of the following:
   a.  Controls the flight of a remotely piloted aircraft equipped with a surveillance device over a homestead.
   b.  Controls the flight of a remotely piloted aircraft equipped with a surveillance device over a secure farmstead area.
   2.  a.  A person who commits surveillance by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft is guilty of a serious misdemeanor.
   b.  Notwithstanding paragraph “a”, a person who commits surveillance by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor if the person has previously been convicted of any of the following:
   (1)  Intrusion by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft as provided in section 715D.2.
   (2)  Surveillance by the use of a remotely piloted aircraft as provided in this section.

Iowa House File 572

Exceptions

This is the part where I thought, “OK, here’s where they’re going to be reasonable and make an exclusion for FAA Certified professionals, right?” Nope!

Often repeated “all you have to do is ask permission”. In principle this is easy. In practice, not so easy. For starters, have you ever tried to randomly knock on doors these days?

Of course there is an exception for pretty much any government entity.

A person exclusively collecting information regarding weather or climate conditions… you mean weather balloons? OK, maybe you could make a case for storm chasers. There probably is other climate research being done with drones. Congratulations, you can fly over someone’s house.

The mention of controlling a remotely piloted aircraft over 400 feet shows a complete lack of knowledge of Federal drone regulations – the maximum altitude allowed in most areas is 400 feet above ground.

Update: Amendments H-1147 and H-1159 on 3/21 and 3/22 add exceptions for “commercial or agricultural” use, which are not defined in the bill nor amendments. This still leaves recreational, educational, and possibly other drone operators without many options.

    Sec. 5.  NEW SECTION.  715D.5  Exceptions.
   This chapter does not prohibit a person controlling the flight of a remotely piloted aircraft as provided in this chapter if the person is any of the following:
   1.  A person who acts with the consent of the owner of the homestead or secure farmstead area.
   2.  A department, division, or other unit of state government of this state or any other state, city, county, township, or other governmental subdivision, or any other public corporation or agency created under the laws of this state, any other state, the United States, or any department or agency thereof, or any agency, commission, or authority established pursuant to an interstate compact or agreement or combination thereof.
   3.  A public utility as defined in section 476.1.
   4.  A person who controls the flight of a remotely piloted aircraft more than four hundred feet from the earth’s surface.
   5.  A person who controls the flight of a remotely piloted aircraft for the exclusive purpose of collecting information regarding weather or climate conditions.

Iowa House File 572

Penalties

Having established that most drone operators are going to be committing a serious misdemeanor of surveillance, you’re looking at up to a year in prison and minimum fines of $430. Not for actively spying on your neighbors – you don’t even have to have a camera recording or pointed down at the neighboring property.

A simple misdemeanor is punishable by confinement for no more than 30 days and a fine of at least $105 but not more than $855. A serious misdemeanor is punishable by confinement for no more than one year and a fine of at least $430 but not more than $2,560. An aggravated misdemeanor is punishable by confinement for no more than two years and a fine of at least $855 but not more than $8,540.

Iowa House File 572

Who this affects

  • Real Estate Photography Update: this is now covered by “commercial”
  • STEM Education – Schools/students not located in an incorporated city could be affected
  • Roofing Inspection Update: this is now covered by “commercial”
  • News reporting – Likely would fall under “commercial”
  • Hobbyists – if you do not live in an incorporated city, this could affect you
  • Drone delivery (packages, medical) will necessarily need to fly over nearby residences Update: this is now covered by “commercial”
  • Film Update: this is now covered by “commercial”

FAA Preemption

In short, the FAA is solely responsible for the national airspace, from the ground up. This has been upheld by prior case law and SB572/SF369 will not withstand challenges in court.

Preemption is a legal principle that federal laws take precedence over any contradictory state or local laws. This is based on the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.