BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A proposal to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water plants and other systems deemed "critical infrastructure" moves to the full Senate for debate after receiving the backing of a judiciary committee Tuesday.

The drone regulation bill (Senate Bill 356) by Sen. Mack "Bodi" White, R-Baton Rouge, includes exemptions for government officials and the owner of the property.

"This is just a way to try to protect those sites in the future that are so critical to the state of Louisiana," White told the Senate committee.

He said he sponsored the bill on behalf of the LouisianaChemical Association. Violating the ban would be a misdemeanor crime on a first offense, but a felony on any second and subsequent offenses, White said.

"Does this bill give you the authority to shoot it down?" asked Sen. Fred Mills, R-Breaux Bridge.

"No, you can call law enforcement," replied Greg Bowser, a lobbyist for the chemical association.

The judiciary committee advanced the bill without objection, sending it to the full Senate for debate.

A second, more sweeping proposal by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, would criminalize the use of drones to photograph people on private property without their permission, with certain exceptions. The bill is expected to be heard in the judiciary committee next week.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who has championed environmental causes in the Legislature, warned the committee Tuesday to be careful in placing restrictions on the use of drones in Louisiana. He said they can be a valuable asset to monitor abandoned oil wells and track environmental damage around the state.

"A drone in the right person's hand is information for you to make better laws to protect the environment," Honore said.

In other legislative action:

Hospitals would be exempt from a state law that bans employers from discriminating against smokers, under a bill that received the unanimous backing of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. More than 20 years ago, legislators passed a law protecting smokers from workplace discrimination. The proposal (Senate Bill 492) by Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans, would strip that protection for new hiring by hospitals, starting on Aug. 1. It heads next to the full Senate for debate.

The La. House voted 95-0 for a bill to let courts create specialized divisions to handle human trafficking cases. Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, said her proposal (House Bill 569) would allow judges to better steer victims to support services, rather than jail for drug crimes or prostitution that are tied to trafficking. The bill moves to the Senate for debate.

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