Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell moved Monday to exempt from a two-year drone moratorium college campuses and law enforcement agencies in emergency situations.
The amendments to the bill were announced just hours before a Tuesday midnight filing deadline. Lawmakers return to Richmond next week to accept or decline the governor's alterations.
McDonnnell's changes clarify that the moratorium does not apply to colleges and universities or companies conducting research and development. The bill comes as the state is working with Virginia Tech to become one of six new sites in the country to test drones, The Washington Examiner first reported last month. Industry insiders and Federal Aviation Administration guidelines warned a ban on unmanned aerial systems, or drones, could hurt the state's application.
The Republican leader also wants flexibility for law enforcement agencies to use drones for search and rescue or "in cases involving imminent danger to a person," a spokesman said. He asked the Department of Criminal Justice Services to help draw up rules for drone use by police for after the ban expires.
In other Monday deadline action, McDonnell weakened penalties in a bill that goes after people who text while driving. The legislation makes it a primary offense to operate an electronic device while behind the wheel, meaning police can pull anyone over they catch driving with their thumbs on their phones.
McDonnell's office did not say how much the penalties were lessened, only that he wanted to "bring them more in line with the penalties for comparable violations such as DUI and reckless driving."
The two big items still on his desk are a large tax increase that raises $1 billion a year for roadwork and amendments to the state budget. A bill that would require a photo ID to vote is also awaiting action.