Senate OKs felony for targeting aircraft with lasers
Lansing — Aiming a laser beam at an airplane or helicopter could land an individual up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 under legislation unanimously approved Tuesday by the Michigan Senate.
Michigan State Police and local law enforcement agencies have pushed for the bills, which would create a new class of state felony to deter irresponsible laser beam use they say can have “deadly consequences” for pilots and passengers.
An Oakland County Sheriff’s Department helicopter was targeted with a laser beam on three separate occasions in a single day near Commerce Township in February, and state police have investigated individuals pointing lasers at passenger jetliners near Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus.
“When these events occur, it can cause temporary or permanent blindness for the pilots and can lead an aircraft to crash as a result,” Sheriff Mike Bouchard told legislators in a March 27 letter.
“When a directed beam of energy hits the Plexiglas of an aircraft, a pilot’s field of vision can be tremendously compromised. At certain altitudes, it can engulf and blind an entire cockpit. Many times the pilots have to seek medical attention after such an event.”
Federal law prohibits shining lasers at planes or helicopters, with violators subject to up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. But creating a state law is “critically important” for efforts to crack down on the behavior, state police Sgt. Timothy Fitzgerald said in testimony earlier this year.
The legislation, sponsored by Republican Reps. Laura Cox of Livonia and Tom Barrett of Potterville, was approved by the House in an earlier form but must head back to the lower chamber for a final vote. The Senate made slight changes, including expansion of the prohibition to moving trains.
The proposal would also ban individuals from intentionally targeting aircraft or trains with other forms of “directed energy devices,” including sonic or particle-beam weapons, microwaves and radio frequencies.
Bouchard told legislators the federal government has failed to charge in some cases involving laser beams, and when it does, prosecution can take longer that it would if charges were filed at the state level.
“By having an additional tool to crackdown on this irresponsible and potentially deadly behavior, we would be helping to secure our airspace and protect those who patrol the skies each and every day,” Bouchard wrote.