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As the use of drones proliferates, some nefarious actors have utilized them to deliver contraband over prison walls and into inmate-accessible areas. HB59 aims to create some new restrictions on drone flights above Utah detention facilities.

SALT LAKE CITY — Sneaking contraband to inmates has taken a decidedly high-tech turn over the past few years, with dozens of U.S. and international detention facilities reporting security breaches at the hands of drone operators delivering cellphones, drugs, tobacco and even weapons to imprisoned comrades.

And while Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, said no major drone-delivery incidents have been reported at Utah corrections facilities, he hopes his HB59 will help lay some groundwork to prevent nefarious actors from operating airborne supply chains for those incarcerated in the Beehive State.

"With the drones that are out there now, you can fly something in from thousands of feet in the air and drop a package, with a very high degree of accuracy, wherever you want," Pitcher said. "These are very, very difficult to detect. This is a step toward helping prevent something big from happening."

Pitcher's bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Ann Milner, R-Ogden, would establish drone no-fly zones for craft intending to deliver anything, or surveil, within a Utah prison's property.

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Pitcher said he originally hoped to establish a no-fly perimeter of a half- or quarter-mile around Utah facilities, but he learned from other stakeholders that it would likely impede a host of legitimate drone overflights.

"A lot of people may not realize it, but there are flyovers happening all the time for things like mapping, mosquito abatement, the movie industry," he said, "… and some drones are even making deliveries. We do have drones in our community in the process of doing legitimate business, legitimate work."

HB59 earned the approval of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on a unanimous vote and will proceed to the full Senate for consideration.