Florida lawmakers have allocated $25 million to aid Police in replacing their aerial drone fleets following Governor Ron DeSantis' administration's Chinese drone ban, that prohibits local governments from using Chinese-made drones earlier this year.
Law enforcement agencies can now apply for funding to replace these drones, which will subsequently be handed over to the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at the University of South Florida for security risk analysis.
“We want to start over with drones to make sure they're securely safe,” stated Senator Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, the Senate's appropriations chairperson.
This agreement aims to resolve a rare disagreement between DeSantis and Florida police, who have strongly opposed the administration rule implemented last month, banning state agencies and local governments from using non-approved drones due to potential security risks.
Police from across Florida argued in March that the Chinese-made drones, particularly those manufactured by Da Jiang Innovations (DJI), were not a security risk and were more cost-effective and technologically superior to the American- and French-made alternatives on DeSantis' original approved list.
The legislature's solution, however, has drawn criticism from GOP lawmaker Sen. Tom Wright, R-New Smyrna Beach, who earlier this year pledged to give police more time to replace their fleets.
Chinese drone ban will cost taxpayers $200M
Wright expressed concern over the $25 million plan, stating that it was a waste of taxpayer money. He estimated that police and local governments have spent at least $200 million on Chinese-made drones, with replacement costs likely to double due to recent price hikes by American manufacturers.
Despite the perceived security risks, Wright emphasized that the benefits to law enforcement agencies far outweigh the concerns.
“I'm very frustrated. I'm very concerned about our law enforcement officers,” Wright said.
The new drone regulations could potentially benefit America's emerging Drone Industry, including Skydio, one of the four companies initially approved by the DeSantis administration. Skydio's lobbyists met with administration officials in 2021, according to records.
While Florida senators initially considered permitting police to use their DJI drones “through their life expectancy,” they ultimately decided against it following a “vigorous discussion” with the governor's office, according to Broxson.
Wright claimed that it was the governor's office that opposed the idea.
“I was told specifically the governor's office took it out,” Wright said.
DeSantis' office did not respond to requests for comment, according to The Lawton Constitution.
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