There's been a lot of odd ("botched") reporting on this, so I'm hoping that this will help clear things up a bit. Why it's so difficult for reporters to actually read five pages of surprisingly clearly written text is beyond me. It took me about two hours to go through and type this up. NY Times, give me a call!
Later I'll do the same for the California bill (much less clearly written!). As always, leave me some comment or corrections if you've got them!
I've highlighted some important parts of the text concerning civilian or hobbyist use. Scan down and read those and you'll have a reasonable idea of how the law applies.
tl;dr: If you're flying over public property, private property with permission of the owner, or not intending to surveil a particular person, you're good to fly by this law.
The bill addresses what kind of pictures/video may be captured from an unmanned aerial vehicle. It adds chapter 423 to the Texas state code.
423.001 -- defining an "image". (basically what you expect: video/pictures, along with all-encompassing catch-alls covering sound, smell, and the entire electromagnetic spectrum.)
423.002 -- Nonapplicability.
(this is the important part. anything noted here is not covered by the law.)
(A) It is legal to capture an image by an unmanned aircraft if:
(1) for University research.
(2) at a designated test site or test range.
(3) by the military.
(4) by a satellite for purposes of mapping.
(5) by electric or natural gas utility, for:
(a) facilities maintenance
(b) facilities inspection
(c) maintaining clearances on easements
(d) routing and siting services
(6) with the consent of the property owner or legal resident.
(7) pursuant to a search/arrest warrant.
(8) by law enforcement, for:
(a) immediate pursuit of a non-misdemeanor criminal suspect
(b) documenting a non-misdemeanor crime scene
(c) investing serious accident scenes
(d) missing person search
(e) life-threatening tactical operation
(f) private property generally open to the public and policed.
(9) by state/local law enforcement, for:
(a) surveying a potential state of emergency scene
(b) preserving public safety during a legal state of emergency
(c) conducting routine air quality sampling
(10) at the scene or suspected scene of a HazMat spill.
(11) fire suppression.
(12) rescuing a person whose life is in danger.
(13) real estate broker, if there is no identifiable person in image.
(14) within 25 miles of the U.S. border.
(15) less than 8 ft altitude, with normal camera.
(16) on public property, and people on public property.
(17) inspecting pipelines and related facilities, but not for surveillance.
(18) oil pipeline safety and rig protection.
(19) port authority surveillance and protection.
(B) doesn't apply to manufacturing or selling unmanned aircraft.
423.003 OFFENSE: ILLEGAL USE OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT TO CAPTURE IMAGE
(A) Illegal to to use unmanned aircraft to capture an image of a person or private property with the intent to conduct surveillance of that person or property.
(B) class C misdemeanor
(C) defense if the person has destroyed the image:
(1) as soon as the person knows the image was captured in violation, and
(2) without distributing to image.
(D) "intent" is as per penal code section 6.03
423.004 OFFENSE: USE OF IMAGE
(A) It's an offense if the person:
(1) captures the image as per 003 above.
(2) possesses, uses or distributes the image
(B) possession is a class C misdemeanor. disclosure, etc, class B.
(C) each image is a separate offense.
(D) it's a defense if you destroy an image as soon as you know it's a violation.
(E) it's a defense if you stop disclosing as soon as you know it's a violation.
423.005 ILLEGALLY OR INCIDENTALLY CAPTURED IMAGES NOT SUBJECT TO DISCLOSURE
(A) No illegal image as specified above can be used in court,
(B) except to prove a violation of this law.
423.006 CIVIL ACTION
(A) an owner or tenant of a property can bring a civil action to:
(1) prevent a violation of 003 or 004.
(2) recover a civil penalty of
(a) $5,000 per episode (for all images)
(b) $10,000 per episode if distribute
(3) recover actual damages if the person displays with malice.
(B,C,D) details on bringing civil action.
(F) two year time limit to bring civil action.
423.007. RULES FOR USE BY LAW ENFORCEMENT
DPS shall adopt rules and guidelines for law enforcement use.
423.008 REPORTING BY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY
Law enforcement agencies must report unmanned aircraft use, cost, etc.
Details as to reports. Details as to when this law takes effect.