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Bill to ban drones over Kentucky prisons takes off

Department of Corrections officials testified in support of Senate Bill 157 which would describe drones as contraband and make it a crime to fly over a prison.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A plan to ban drone use over Kentucky prisons has taken off in Frankfort. Right now, there's nothing legally preventing someone from flying them over correctional facilities, like the one in LaGrange. At a hearing, officials claimed drones cause a lot more safety concerns than the obvious.

"It's fun to get out there and see the world from a different perspective,” Sen. Whitney Westerfield said. He’s a self-described drone enthusiast. [Click here for drone video the senator took of the Capitol with special permission.]

Recently, the Department of Corrections contacted him about their perspective on a bill that passed last year banning the use of drones over major infrastructure.

"I am, so far as I know, the only commercial drone operator FAA licensed drone operator in the Kentucky General Assembly,” Sen. Westerfield said.

Missing from the law was what some might consider an obvious location.

"Currently in Kentucky, there are no laws that prevent law enforcement to enforce the preventing of flying drones over state prisons,” Deputy Commissioner KY Dept of Corrections Randy White said.

Department of Corrections officials testified in support of Senate Bill 157 which would describe drones as contraband and make it a crime to fly over a prison.

WHAS also learned that the DOC has installed software that alerts to a drone within one mile of their property. They are concerned about contraband being dropped into the yard or how a drone itself could be used as a weapon if it were to get in the hands of an inmate. But just the sight of a drone, they say, puts lives at risk.

"The DOC has to shut it down. They have to put the facility on lockdown they've got to put everybody in their cells and they've got to stop everything that is going on and do a sweep of the open yards and the areas where that drone was spotted just to make sure,” Sen. Westerfield said. "And just putting inmates on lockdown presents a risk not only to inmates themselves but to the correctional workers.”

The current technology allows prison staff to identify a drone's serial number and location, but with no law to punish those who might try to get something in. It's hard to prevent an attempt.

"They need to have more than just a passive way to find these people they need to have tools to go out and prosecute these folks,” Sen. Westerfield said.

Clearing committee sets the drone bill on a flight path for a full Senate vote which could happen in the next couple of days.

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