LANSING, MI -- A bill making it illegal to point lasers at pilots under state law was reported to the House floor Tuesday.
The House Law and Justice Committee voted 10-1 Tuesday to report out a pair of bills, House Bills 4063 and 4064, that prohibit people from aiming a laser or other "directed energy device" -- including those projecting sound, electromagnetic radiation or particle-beams -- at or into the path of an aircraft. Somebody who does so could face five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.
Pointing lasers as pilots can disorient pilots, and is already illegal under federal law. But enshrining it in state law would give local units of government the ability to enforce it, law enforcement officials told the House Law and Justice Committee during testimony last week.
When a laser-like device is pointed at pilots, the light can be amplified into a sudden flash that leaves the pilot with diminished vision. Oakland County Deputy Bill Christensen described such incidents bluntly.
"It's terrifying," he said.
And aside from being terrifying, it's dangerous, say sponsors of a pair of bills that would make it a five-year felony. Rep. Laura Cox, R-Livonia, said there have been 15 such attacks in Michigan in the past year. Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Grand Ledge, is a helicopter pilot with the National Guard and has talked with some of his peers about these incidents.
Robinson said last week that she didn't understand what devices the bill was targeting, and suggested the language could use some tightening. She voted against reporting out both bills during the committee's Tuesday vote.
"With all due respect, I still don't know what it is," she said.
Barrett said the definition didn't encompass anything like a flashlight that would be in the typical household. But you could buy devices that would fit the bill, like lasers, online for $20 or less.
Although there is already a federal law prohibiting this type of action, Michigan State Police Sgt. Timothy Fitzgerald said it was important to have a state law so state law enforcement could enforce it, instead of relying on the feds.
The State Police have technology to track down the people who are pointing devices at aircraft, Fitzgerald said, but without federal help "a lot of times, there's nothing we can do with these guys."
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