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Jan 6, 2014 12:30 AM by Sam Salzwedel

Pointing lasers at aircraft may become felony

TUCSON - The state legislature will consider making pointing a laser at an aircraft a felony.

Representative Ethan Orr said the bill is written and he will file it before the legislative session, which starts January 13.

Tucson Police officer and pilot Chris Potter has been working with Orr. He said his helicopter has been hit by a laser pointer about 100 times in his career. About 2 years ago, one permanently damaged his right eye.

"Unfortunately, we don't have, as aviators, the luxury to pull over," Potter said, "or hit the brakes in midair that you might be able to do in a car if you can't see."

Potter said he is ready to go to Phoenix and lobby for the bill. He said it is about awareness as much as it is consequences.

TPD had about 50 laser strikes last year. Officers caught the offender in most of those cases, according to Potter.

"But there's really no punishment," Orr said. "The county prosecutor, because it's not at a felony status, doesn't go after them. And so literally, you get a ticket and nothing happens. But you're endangering lives."

The law would apply to all aircraft, including medical helicopters, passenger planes and police helicopters.

The House of Representatives considered 665 bills last legislative session. It sent 171 to the governor. She vetoed 16.

"I do think some civil libertarians may oppose it," Orr said. "I'm going to be actually spending this week reaching out to groups like the Goldwater Institute and conservatives in the House and Senate and making sure that they understand how important this bill is."

The FBI will launch a public awareness campaign about the issue next month.


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