It’s a classic case of unintended consequences. A Republican lawmaker in North Dakota put forth legislation meant to prevent law enforcement officials from using unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct surveillance on private property without a warrant. It was transformed by fellow lawmakers into a bill allowing the police to mount Tasers, pepper spray, sound cannons and other “less-than-lethal” weapons on flying drones.
The legislation, House Bill 1328, was passed and signed into law earlier this year, but got little attention until this week, when a Daily Beast report pointed out the implications of the legislation: Law enforcement officers many miles away from suspects could have the authority to stun or otherwise incapacitate them.
To be clear, the fact that something like this is technically legal doesn’t mean that state and local police departments will necessarily embrace the practice of remotely subduing suspects. Police officers are generally subject to local and departmental rules that can substantially limit what tactics are allowed.
The original version of the bill included language that would have barred law enforcement from mounting weapons of any kind on a drone: “A state agency may not authorize the use of, including granting a permit to use, an unmanned aircraft armed with any lethal or nonlethal weapons, including firearms, pepper spray, bean bag guns, mace, and sound-based weapons,” it said.
Supporters of the state’s police union introduced an amendment to the bill that would allow less-than-lethal weapons to be mounted on drones, according to the Daily Beast’s Justin Glawe. The amended bill was ultimately passed and signed into law.
State Rep. Rick Becker this spring voiced his dismay at the changes to the bill in a public hearing, saying, “In my opinion there should be a nice, red line: Drones should not be weaponized. Period.”
Drones have, of course, been weaponized for years — the strikes just haven’t been in the U.S. If North Dakota is taking the lead, however, that might be about to change.
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President Trump’s 2020 budget includes up to $1.2 trillion in “potentially phantom revenues” — money that comes from taxes the administration opposes or from tax hikes that face strong opposition from businesses, The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reports, citing data from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. That total, covering 2020 through 2029, includes as much as $390 billion in taxes created under the Affordable Care Act, which the president wants to repeal.
The $1.2 trillion in questionable revenue projections is in addition to the White House budget’s projected deficits of $7.3 trillion for the 10-year period. That total is itself questionable, given that the president’s budget relies on optimistic assumptions about economic growth and some unrealistic spending cuts, meaning that the deficits could be significantly higher than projected.
Ben Ritz of the Progressive Policy Institute slams President Trump’s new budget:
“It would dismantle public investments that lay the foundation for economic growth, resulting in less innovation. It would shred the social safety net, resulting in more poverty. It would rip away access to affordable health care, resulting in more disease. It would cut taxes for the rich, resulting in more income inequality. It would bloat the defense budget, resulting in more wasteful spending. And all this would add up to a higher national debt than the policies in President Obama’s final budget proposal.”
Here’s Ritz’s breakdown of Trump’s proposed spending cuts to public investment in areas such as infrastructure, education and scientific research:
Since roughly the end of World War Two, individual income taxes in the U.S. have equaled about 8 percent of GDP. By contrast, the Tax Policy Center says, “corporate income tax revenues declined from 6% of GDP in 1950s to under 2% in the 1980s through the Great Recession, and have averaged 1.4% of GDP since then.”