Utah Legislature still up in the air over digital billboards bill

Feb 27 2013 - 1:19am

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley, is getting tired of debating billboard regulations every legislative session.

She has served in the state Senate for six years and has heard debate on billboard issues every year. She may hear a lot more of it this session.

A Senate committee on Monday stalled on taking action on legislation that would prohibit a municipality or county from enacting regulations dealing with the conversion of existing billboards to digital billboards.

The bill, SB 76, would nullify city ordinances passed in at least two Top of Utah cities, Farmington and Layton, that have worked to establish those guidelines because the Legislature could not reach agreement on guidelines last session.

"I have heartburn about this. I don't know how to fix this," Mayne said of the impasses. "Every year, we are fighting this battle. I don't know how to fix this. This is not good for anyone."

The matter comes down to control, according to both sides of the argument.

Robert Saunders, of Saunders Outdoor Advertising, said billboard companies should be allowed to take advantage of new technologies without discrimination.

"We feel we have a right to display our message. What we're finding in certain instances is discrimination in being asked to give up our rights to use this technology."

He pointed out Layton's new guidelines are especially stringent.

Layton City Attorney Gary Crane said one of the problems with the bill is it treats digital billboards the same as regular billboards.

"We have thought, from the very beginning, it's a change of use," Crane said, adding that the ability to use video or any type of moving media significantly changes the use of a billboard.

He said cities should have the ability to regulate billboards on surface streets. "This is not a state issue, this is a local government issue."

Jeff Young, of Young Electric Sign Company, argues that electronic billboards are still just billboards.

SB 76 is geared toward standardizing the use of billboards and addresses brightness standards, said Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, the bill's sponsor.

Billboard officials think some cities are circumventing the Utah Outdoor Advertising Act by imposing limits on the conversion to electronic billboards.

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