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Hill puts drone use in crosshairs

You might know him as a former Twisp City Councilman. You might also know him as a former Okanogan County deputy prosecuting attorney.

But Clay Hill is making a name for himself in politics in Olympia.

Those of you who know Clay may remember that in November he was named as a staff attorney for the House Republican Caucus.

From his small office in the John L. O’Brien Building on the Capitol campus, Hill helped developed two bills protecting us from the use of drones that may be invade our privacy.

Last week, I visited with Clay for a few minutes while meeting with other publishers and lawmakers in Olympia. Our conversation was interrupted a few times by telephone calls and other visitors. The common denominator in those interruptions was that Clay’s advice was being sought on bills.

“I’m loving it here,” he said of working in the political theater that is Olympia. But home, for him, is still Okanogan County. And a photograph of the welcome to county sign hangs on the wall near his desk.

Clay’s move to Olympia helped give area residents a voice I don’t think most are aware of.

Take, for example, the drone bills he crafted on behalf of Republican lawmakers. House Bills 2178 and 2789 are headed to the Senate, thanks in part to the effort Clay put in to protect our privacy.

A public hearing on House Bill 2789 is set for today before the Senate Law and Justice Committee. From conversation in Olympia, it appears the bill will likely move forward to the Senate floor.

The bill would require government agencies – including law enforcement – to obtain approval from their governing boards before purchasing a drone. The bill also requires all law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants for most uses. That said, they could still be used for wildlife management, habitat preservation and assessing environmental damages.

The protection is very important for those of us living close to the border – and here in Okanogan and Ferry counties, we all live close to the border – where federal discussions of drone patrols have raised more than a few eyebrows.

Clay said the impetus for the bills was, in part, the ever-growing government intrusion into our private lives.

The second measure, House Bill 2178, prohibits the use of drones above private property without the expressed permission of the land owner. That should help assuage the concerns of many liberty-minded folks here in the Okanogan.

Clay made sure to point out that the laws do not interfere with the media’s ability to use drones to photograph and record video of news-worthy events in public areas.

If both bills pass and Gov. Jay Inslee signs them into law, Washington state will be one of only a handful nationwide that are moving to secure our privacy before a government agency or neighbor decides to try to invade it.

And if they do become law, we have Clay, among others, to thank for the protections.

It’s good to see the liberty movement so prominent in North-Central Washington supplanting politics as usual in Olympia.

Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via e-mail at rharnack@omakchronicle.com.

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