Senate Bill 61 Could Dismiss Local Control On Electronic Billboards

Feb 12, 2021

Credit KPCW

If Senate Bill 61 makes it into law, municipalities would be required to allow bill-board companies to transition existing displays to electronic sign faces. The legislation has elevated a social media conversation in Wasatch County and drawn the ire of members of the Heber City Council.

Heber City Council Member Ryan Stack sent a letter to legislators asking that SB 61 be voted down. He explained that Heber City put a Night Sky ordinance in place last year and allowing more electronic or digital light would not comply with their new dark skies’ ordinance.

“And so, some of the things we're doing are prohibiting any new electronic or digital signs. We have also already implemented a dark Sky code for all new constructions with lighting. But all the lighting has to comply with our Dark Sky restrictions and ordinances. And what we want to do this year is actually start to go through the city and identify existing city and light standards that are not Dark Sky compliant. And we'd like to begin the process of retrofitting them, so they are night sky compliant.”

Stack is concerned that SB 61 takes away local control of how billboards are lit and believes it will impact night sky initiatives all over the state.

“As currently introduced, SB 61 would prohibit a municipality, and there is also an amendment to prohibit a county from enacting or enforcing any ordinance that would prevent any of these billboards from converting or upgrading to electronic or digital signs.”

President and General Manager of Reagan Outdoor Advertising Duey Reagan said the bill if passed, would create equity in the way municipalities treat signs and billboards.

“Presently in many municipalities, local business owners are able to use electronic sign faces on their sign poles while simultaneously in those same municipalities, billboard owners are not allowed to transition their static sign faces to electronic sign faces.”

Reagan said it’s not uncommon for businesses to use their on-premises electronic signs that are larger than billboard sign faces. He said most billboard signs are lit from below and have no sensors to adjust to changing conditions. He said the bill would regulate the brightness of the sign 24 hours a day based on climatic conditions. The bill includes  a maximum brightness limit with safety regulations disallowing full motion video.

“This legislation will require the billboard to have light shielding technology that requires the light to be directed at the ground rather than up in the sky. Not only direct at the ground but it can be directed with great precision to a certain area on the ground and simultaneously, it shields the light from other places, most importantly the sky.”

Reagan said even if the bill passes, municipalities and counties can prevent the conversion of static sign faces to electronic displays if the road is a Federal Scenic Byway.

“And the majority of the major roads in Wasatch County are Scenic Byways. Also, Wasatch County does not have a lot of billboards. The ones that Reagan operates are in Heber in the metropolitan area."

KPCW reached out to SB 61 sponsor Senator Scott Sandall for a comment, but he did not respond in time for this report.

Reagan said the League of Cities and Towns and Association of County Governments had given input on the bill and that 90% of concerns are addressed in the second substitute.

A link to the second substitute SB 61 is on KPCW.org.