2024 Legislative Session Dates
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A federal judge has set a precedent by overturning a drone ordinance in Newton, Massachusetts.

In late September, a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled that federal law preempted a local drone ordinance that the City Council of Newton, Massachusetts passed in December. The ordinance (A-97) was “intended to promote the public safety and welfare of the City and its residents” by establishing, among other provisions, a local registration process and bans on certain drone flights.

The plaintiff, Newton resident and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified drone pilot Michael Singer, said he was “researching ways of using drones for delivering medical services” when the ordinance was initially passed.

The judge found that each of the four provisions Singer challenged were in violation of federal law and subsequently preempted. Specifically, certain provisions of the local ordiance were preempted by the FAA's exclusive jurisdiction, which lays out the terms by which state and local governments can restrict drone usage.

Congress gave the FAA authority to regulate flight rules within the national airspace, and the FAA already mandates that drone operators fly unmanned aircraft systems “below an altitude of 400 feet from the ground or a structure.” The court ruled that the ordinance language “thwarts not only the FAA’s objectives, but also those of Congress for the FAA to integrate drones into the national airspace.”

Singer said that the ruling would “ensure that the skies would remain open for new technology that would benefit society.” However, the court did uphold the other provisions of the ordinance, and noted that nothing prevented Newton from “re-drafting the Ordinance to avoid conflict preemption.” Newton's legal department is reportedly considering its appeal options.

Atlanta has reduced penalties for marijuana possession.

This week, the Atlanta City Council voted unanimously to decrease the severity of punishments levied against those found in possession of marijuana. Previously, local law stated that possession was punishable with a fine up to $1,000 and six months in jail. The new law eliminates jail time and lowers the fine to $75.

City Councilman Kwanza Hall, who introduced the legislation, argued that the change was necessary to combat the disproportionate number of African American men arrested for marijuana possession.

“Today we stand with every parent of Atlanta who is fearful of or has seen their children’s lives destroyed, or careers ruined because of a racist policy that unjustly incarcerated minorities by more than 90 percent,” Hall said at a press conference following the decision.

Before the new ordinance was passed, 92 percent of individuals arrested for marijuana possession in Atlanta between 2014 and 2016 were black.

Atlanta joins a growing list of major cities around the U.S. that have passed decriminalization laws and continue to pursue less severe punishments for marijuana-related offenses. Major cities such as Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C., have all passed decriminalization legislation in recent years, following in the footsteps of a growing number of progressive states around the country.

St. Charles, Illinois, will now allow convenience stores to sell liquor.

This week, the St. Charles City Council passed an ordinance amendment that would allow stand-alone convenience stores to sell packaged liquor. This amendment makes changes to an ordinance approved in July that allowed convenience stores at gas stations to sell packaged liquor.

According to the newly amended law, in order to sell liquor, a convenience store must cover at least 10,000 sq. feet of floorspace and ensure that its liquor section does not exceed 10 percent of that overall space.

The vote was not unanimous, however. Aldermen who opposed the new ordinance cited the law’s lack of clear terms and argued that easier access to alcohol would undermine the city’s long-term goal of improving the community's overall mental health.

Despite the opposition, the amended ordinance passed by a 6-3 margin. The full ordinance also allows for Sunday liquor sales and procedures for awarding brewery licenses so restaurants may produce alcohol on site.

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