With the clock ticking down on existing counter-drone authorities for the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, a bipartisan contingent of senators last Friday introduced a new bill to reauthorize current authorities and expand them to state and local law enforcers, and critical infrastructure entities.

The new bill also would grant the Transportation Security Administration, a component of DHS, authorization to protect transportation infrastructure from drone threats, including to detect, track, identify, monitor and mitigate.

The Biden administration earlier this year requested the expanded authorities. The legacy authorities expire in October.

The Safeguarding the Homeland from the Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act (S. 4687) would allow DHS, DoJ, state, local, tribal and territorial (SLTT) law enforcers, airports and covered critical infrastructures to detect, track, identify and defeat potential threats from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Small, commercially available UAS are rapidly proliferating in use by consumers, private entities and the government and with the expansion has come unintentional and malicious activity. In mid-July, all arrivals and departures from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport were halted due to safety concerns after a drone was reported in the area.

The recent disruption at Reagan National is similar to interruptions at other airports nationwide.

Small drones are also being used to smuggle drugs over the border and contraband into prisons, spy on border agents, and conduct surveillance of government facilities.

The new bill was introduced by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a member of the committee who crafted the legacy authorization bill five years ago when he chaired the committee.

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) also co-sponsored the legislation.

The bill also would establish a pilot program for DHS and DoJ to conduct pilot programs to examine the benefits of drone mitigation capabilities for SLTT law enforcement agencies. Up to 12 pilots would be permitted per year at different agencies for up to five years. The intent of the provision is to encourage coordination among federal, state and local partners on defeating UAS threats.

The bill has a five and a half-year term limit for non-federal entities and seven years for covered critical infrastructures.

The bill also requires DHS to develop a database of security-related UAS incidents in the U.S.

“We have increasingly seen the threat posed by drones used by transnational criminal organizations for illegal drug trafficking or surveilling border agents and officers,” Hassan said in a statement. “This bill will take important steps to counter the threat of malicious drones, as well as helping make sure that drones cannot interfere with airport operations and safety.”