Lawmakers agree to tighten drone restrictions, fund Fair Park arena

Posted at 10:41 PM, Jul 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-14 10:00:45-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- From putting up a new Utah State Fair Park arena, to taking down drones, some huge changes came out of the special legislative session on Wednesday.

House Bill 3002 addresses a debate that’s carried on for years over the Fair Park.

“That property has been neglected for a long time,” said Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City.

Not only does it badly need upgrades, lawmakers contend, it costs the state quite a deal of money to maintain.

Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said during the Wednesday afternoon State House discussion that the exact figure has been $1.8 million each year, for the last 10 years.

The answer here, seems to be a new $17 million, 10,000-seat arena. About $10 million of that would come from the state’s general fund. Private donations would fill the rest.

Lawmakers said the arena would boost business at the Fair Park, and finally allow it to become self-sustaining.

“We're looking at up to a million dollars in revenue for the state fairgrounds,” Hollins said.

During the house discussion, some raised concerns over how huge the state investment is for the arena.

“I just want to make sure that we as a Legislature are not setting a precedence,” said Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan. “That this does not open Pandora's Box moving forward with other types of legislation.”

Senators wondered if this arena would compete with privately-owned arenas for business.

Ultimately, both decided to give it the green light and send it to Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk.

“I think this is the step in the right direction,” Schultz said.

Groundbreaking is set to kick off next month, and Hollins said construction is slated to move at a fast past. She said they hope the arena will be ready by the Days of ’47 Rodeo next year.

After that debate and vote, lawmakers tackled House Bill 3003, which tightens the law for drones caught flying over wildfires.

The U.S. Forest Service reported several instances of drone-related interruptions to fighting the Saddle Fire in southern Utah.

Lawmakers said drones end up grounding air attack crews, because it’s too dangerous to share the airspace.

HB 3003 would increase the fines for those flying drones over wildfires.

It also gives authority to fire crews or law enforcement to use whatever means possible to get those drones out of the sky.

“This is something that we just need to take action on right now,” urged Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City. “We're in the midst of the fire season.”

But a concern in the Senate: Do drone owners even realize they’re breaking the law, and the flight restrictions over wildfires?

“It's unclear to me how notice is given, how people are supposed to know they're in legal jeopardy,” said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs.

Others answered it’s the drone owners’ duty to know, but added a working group is coming up with ways to better get the word out.

The vote ended unanimous.

"We want to keep the firefighters safe,” said Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George. “The irresponsible use of these drones just needs to stop."

Those two bills now await the governor’s signature to pass into law.