State legislators refused Monday to wade into a fight between cities and outdoor advertising companies over where new electronic digital signs may be located.
The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously decided simply to move onto other agenda items and make no motions on SB76 — pushed by outdoor sign companies to take away the power of cities to ban the conversion of current lighted billboards into electronic digital signs.
Robert Saunders of Saunders Outdoor Advertising said the digital signs "are just like watching a slide show," and do not use motion pictures. He said his industry contends they are "just billboards," and that it should be allowed to convert existing lighted billboards into them.
But he contends that many cities are essentially blackmailing sign companies, requiring them to give up several current signs in exchange for permission to convert one sign into a digital display. He said his industry sees no escape except to come to the Legislature to rein in the cities.
But Layton City Attorney Gary Crane said, "This is not a state issue, it’s a local issue," and argued cities are in the best situation to decide what fits in with local communities.
He said the conversions are more than a mere upgrade because he says the lighting is more intense — and one sign allowed in his city can be seen from its eastern border to the western city line, while other lighted billboard cannot. Crane said the possibility also exists for future use of motion video, which cities want to control.
Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvin Cullimore said his city worked out an ordinance supported by the billboard industry over the summer, but the compromises achieved would be wiped out if the bill were approved.
When the committee decided not to act on the bill, its sponsor, Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, said he would continue to seek a compromise that both sides may support.
The outdoor advertising industry is one of the biggest donors to Utah legislators. Reagan Outdoor Advertising, for example, was the second-biggest single donor to legislators in the last election cycle. It distributed $98,552 to 86 of the current 104 legislators.
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