Due to advancements in technology, electronic billboards have begun to dot Utah roadways. From a marketing standpoint, the rotating advertisements are a no-brainier: A billboard that can only hold one advertisement with traditional technology can now feature six to eight static images in a minute, are quickly customizeable, and more easily draw attention.
However, opinions are mixed among cities along the Wasatch Front as to how to deal with them. Some cites, such as Layton, have welcomed the billboards with open arms, viewing them as an easy way to generate revenue and promote local businesses in a more efficient way. Others, such as Salt Lake City, view the billboards as eyesores that draw people’s attention away from the roadway. Indeed, Salt Lake hated the signs so much that, in 2011, the city attempted to ban electronic billboards outright. A compromise was eventually reached that would only allow a new electronic billboard to be erected within city limits if an original one is taken down.
Since that time, the billboard industry has been up in arms, and has been contributing to political campaigns accordingly. For example, since 2011, Reagan Outdoor Advertising has contributed nearly $350,000 in campaign contributions statewide in an attempt to get laws like Salt Lake’s off the books and create conditions more favorable to outdoor advertising.
One beneficiary to these contributions was Senator Margaret Dayton (Republican – Orem), netting $2,000 over two years from Reagan Outdoor. Senator Dayton is also running SB 82 – Property Rights Related to Outdoor Advertising.
Favorable conditions, such as those outlined in SB 82, which would prohibit cities from creating or enforcing laws that prevent billboard owners to upgrade analog billboards to digital counterparts. Dayton’s bill would, however, would allow restrictions related to residential zones and static images during dusk.
This is the third year in a row that similar legislation has been attempted. In 2012, HB 87 from Representative Mel Brown (Republican – Coalville) and SB 136 from now President of the Senate, Wayne Niederhauser (Republican – Sandy) ran pro-electronic billboard legislation, and last year Senator Pete Knudson (Republican – Brigham City) ran SB 76. These three bills all have two things in common: the bills all died early in the process, and every bill sponsor received campaign contributions from outdoor advertisers. In fact, Dayton has copied Knudson’s legislation, word for word, from last year’s bill.
Because of this, the concerns related to SB 82 this year remain the same as those Utah Political Capitol expressed last year:
In a legislature so opposed to federal intrusion into state matters, it seems odd that the same state legislature would take such a keen interest in the micromanagement of its cities. Do lawmakers honestly believe that the issue of electronic billboard conversion is so pressing, so widespread, and so out of the realm of city capabilities that they must step step in to address the problem?
Or, is it possible that a major campaign donor, who happens to be the largest outdoor advertiser in the state, does not like the idea that some cities may decide that they would prefer to reduce their light pollution – cutting off potential new profits in the process?
When Salt Lake City initially passed its ordinance, opponents claimed that the new requirements were anti-business. No doubt these same arguments will resurface. Likewise, the arguments that billboards detract from the natural scenery and are a distraction to drivers will no doubt return.
Love them or hate them, these types of decisions should be left to the municipalities. By rushing to a bigger governmental entity to protect them, one has to wonder how likely the billboard companies are to succeed if they were to stand on their own. It is clear that this bill is designed for those that line the pockets of lawmakers, and not inherently what local governments want.
Nothing has altered the status quo since last year (aside from even more money being contributed to political campaigns), lawmakers have seen fit to kill this legislation in the past, and there does not appear to be any compelling reason to change state policy going forward.
To contact Senator Dayton, click here or call 801-221-0623.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker