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Iowa Watchdog

Iowa City one of first to potentially ban drones


DES MOINES – Iowa City is on its way to becoming one of the first cities in the nation to at least temporarily ban drones, after residents successfully petitioned the City Council to take action on the issue.

Council members unanimously voted Wednesday to ban the use of drones and other surveillance devices, such as red light cameras, for at least two years. They must vote on the ordinance three times before it officially passes. The council expects the measure to pass when it comes up in two weeks for a final vote, members said.

Iowa City close to becoming one of the nation’s first cities to ban drones.

Iowa City close to becoming one of the nation’s first cities to ban drones.

The council took up the issue after a group of Iowa City residents collected more than the 2,500 needed signatures to bring the ban to a vote. Under law, issues that collect the needed votes are either placed on a special ballot or the council can opt to adopt the measure.

Organizers of the petition drive were not immediately available for comment.

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Connie Champion, city councilwoman, said the council supported the ordinance because it’s still waiting for guidance from the state on how and if cities can use traffic cameras. Because the measure came to council members via petition, the ordinance can be repealed in two years, she said.

The petition centered mainly on the use of red light cameras, which more cities are beginning to use. Drones were just a side issue included in the petition. They were not brought up during discussion at Wednesday’s meeting, Champion said.

“It was just something that was on their petition,” Champion said. “It was a concern of this group. They have a right to force us to put it on the ballot.”

Drones are unmanned aircraft that are used mostly for military and special operations. Public entities, however, have begun to increasingly use them in police and firefighting operations, as well as security and surveillance.

Iowa has not applied for permission to use drones, according to a 2011-12 government list. Lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to push a bill banning the use of drones in the state but failed to gain the needed support to move it forward.

Contact Sheena Dooley at Sheena Dooley is the Iowa bureau chief for, where this story first appeared.

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