New laser pointer punishments sent to Snyder

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A bill to punish pranksters who shine lasers into pilots’ cockpits could become Michigan law after the Legislature sent it Tuesday to Gov. Rick Snyder for consideration.

Aiming a laser pointer at an airplane or helicopter could land offenders five years in state prison and up to a $10,000 fine under legislation the House unanimously approved Tuesday. The Senate passed the measure in late April.

State and local law enforcement said it’s needed to prevent such occurrences, which they say happen far too frequently and put pilots’ lives in danger.

An Oakland County Sheriff’s Department helicopter was targeted with a laser beam three times in a single day near Commerce Township in February, according to the office. State Police have investigated individuals suspected of pointing lasers at passenger airplanes near Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus as well.

“When these events occur, it can cause temporary or permanent blindness for the pilots and can lead an aircraft to crash as a result,” Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard told legislators in a March 27 letter.

When laser pointers are aimed at the Plexiglas cockpit window of an airplane or helicopter it can magnify and refract, seriously compromising pilots’ vision while flying, law enforcement say.

It’s currently illegal under federal law to shine lasers at aircraft, but a state law is important to further crack down on offenders, Sgt. Timothy Fitzgerald told lawmakers earlier this year.

Republican Reps. Laura Cox of Livonia and Tom Barrett of Potterville sponsored the legislation, which was approved by the House in an earlier form but came back to the lower chamber for a final vote after the Senate made minor adjustments.