Tuesday, a Senate committee at the Legislature passed out a bill allowing for billboard companies to convert their traditional vinyl billboards to electronic billboards. It’s a bill that’s upset local cities, who worry about the Legislature allowing the e-billboards in neighborhoods that don’t want them. “These are essentially TV screens,” said Jodi Hoffman of the Utah League of Cities and Towns. “These are 20-feet-by-60-foot billboards—they’re huge.”
And if Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, passes his Senate Bill 136, large electronic billboards could become common fixtures among all cities and counties in the state. While the bill passed favorably out of the committee, it will likely draw a showdown on the Senate floor as the League of Cities and Towns -- the lobby group that represents over 200 cities and towns in the state -- will continue to wrangle over the issue of the state taking authority away from local government.
The bill itself has strong backing, though, from Senate leadership including Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, and Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville. The bill is also solidly backed by Reagan Outdoor Advertising, a heavy hitter when it comes to donating to legislators' campaigns. According to campaign filings, the company donated $72,648 just to legislators in 2011.
But for Dewey Reagan, with Reagan Outdoor Advertising, if Utahns should be worried about anything from the bill, it’s not an attack of giant TV screens in their neighborhoods but an attack on a business in the state that just wants to update its product to match today’s technology.
Reagan argued that many city ordinances are hypocritical in rejecting e-billboards for advertising businesses like his while also allowing other entities to use electronic advertising. “Cities are getting into the outdoor-advertising business and actually utilizing this technology in many instances,” Reagan said.
He referred to the Sorenson Unity Center at 1383 S. 900 West in Salt Lake City. The taxpayer-funded community center, Reagan says, employs an electronic billboard that uses animation and is within 100 feet of a residential home. He argued that the company’s e-billboards follow national safety standards that don’t allow unsafe illumination levels, scrolling text or animations, but simply keep a static image on the billboard for eight seconds before rapidly changing to another advertisement.
“[Cities] are also allowing … local business owners to use this technology for advertising the products they’re selling, but they do not want to allow the advertising industry to utilize this technology.”
Under the bill proposal, signs in close proximity to residential neighborhoods would have to follow the same lighting standards as Reagan and other billboard companies in the state. Local authorities would be allowed to impose curfews on e-billboards that would require them to be turned off from midnight to 6 a.m. when in close proximity to residentially zoned neighborhoods.
It would also prohibit cities from restricting the conversion of traditional billboards to e-billboards, a measure that seems in direct response to moves like Salt Lake City’s having placed a moratorium on e-billboards since April 2011.
Jeff Young of Ogden’s Young Electric Sign Company spoke in favor of the bill, citing his family’s business as employing 600 Utahns in manufacturing electronic signs. He says the new technology provides small businesses a good advertising investment and that it’s only logical that the company adapt to the new technology available. “We’ve not asked the state to add more billboards to our inventory; we’re simply asking to keep what we’ve got and to employ the technology that exists,” Young said.
But for Hoffman, the Legislature’s move to take away city control over sign ordinance is not welcome when it comes to prohibiting city planners from regulating the conversion of traditional billboards into electronic ones.
“We believe government governs best at the local level,” Hoffman said. “We think our local planning-and-zoning [boards] should have a say over these conversion issues -- especially when there’s been a big public investment in the ambiance of an area.”
Niederhauser stressed that he would work more with Utah cities over the bill, but also argued that city ordinances were becoming too burdensome for the industry.
“I don’t want to take over local control of anything,” Niederhauser said. “But when [cities] go outside the bounds of the fundamentals we believe in, it’s the state’s right to step in and make some changes, set some guidelines so we’re protecting commerce … and the people’s right to have a legitimate business.”
The Senate Government Operations Committee agreed and unanimously voted to pass the bill onto the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation.
To find your legislator to contact them about this bill, visit the Legislature's representative finder here.
To contact bill sponsor Sen. Wayne Niederhauser about SB 136, click here for his contact info.
For more updates from the 2012 Legislature, follow @EricSPeterson on Twitter.