By Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Connecticut would become the first U.S. state to allow law enforcement agencies to use drones equipped with deadly weapons if a bill opposed by civil libertarians becomes law.
The legislation, approved overwhelmingly by the state legislature's judiciary committee on Wednesday, would ban so-called weaponized drones in the state but exempts agencies involved in law enforcement. It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
The legislation was introduced as a complete ban on weaponized drones but just before the committee vote it was amended to exclude police from the restriction.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, was reviewing the proposal, "however in previous years he has not supported this concept," spokesman Chris Collibee wrote in an email.
Civil libertarians and civil rights activists are lobbying to restore the bill to its original language before the full House vote.
"Data shows police force is disproportionately used on minority communities, and we believe that armed drones would be used in urban centers and on minority communities," said David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut.
"That's not the kind of precedent we want to set here," McGuire said of the prospect that Connecticut would become the first state to allow police to use lethally armed drones.
In 2015, North Dakota became the first state to permit law enforcement agencies to use armed drones but limited them to "less than lethal" weapons such as tear gas and pepper spray.
So far, 36 states have enacted laws restricting drones and an additional four states have adopted drone limits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
If Connecticut's Democratic-controlled House passes the bill it will move to the Senate, which is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Representative William Tong, a Democrat from Stamford, nor Senator John Kissel, a Republican from Enfield, who are co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, were not immediately available for comment.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and James Dalgleish)