Two bills in Utah legislature draw support, opposition from businesses, nonprofits

Posted at 11:05 PM, Feb 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 01:17:34-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of bills is causing quite a stir on Utah’s Capitol Hill, and they both have to do with billboards.

One was in a legislative committee on Monday, and the other on the Senate floor. They both look at what a city can or can’t do when it comes to billboards.

Senate Bill 61 would allow billboard companies to install new or upgrade to electronic billboards, regardless of city ordinances.

S.B. 144 would prohibit a city government from certain actions to prevent building, maintaining or remodeling billboards.

Scenic Utah, a grassroots organization that focuses on scenic protection around highways and byways, doesn't like either bill.

“Cities and towns have said, ‘That's enough. No more,’” said Kate Kopischke, the director of Scenic Utah. “So billboard companies are really trying to keep their inventory with some of these bills. They don't want them to go away.”

They say cities would have no power or say over billboards in their communities.

“It really does become a matter of local control vs. the state law benefitting one single industry,” said Tom Stephens, also with Scenic Utah.

The organizations worry about billboards tying up properties, or bright lights flashing through people's windows.

But the billboard industry has a response to their concerns.

“Both [bills] are drafted to address fairness issues,” said Dewey Reagan, the president and general manager of Reagan Outdoor Advertising.

Reagan says the bills address problems they've been dealing with for years. He also pointed out that local businesses can put up electronic signs with no problem.

“In many instances, the local business owners’ signs are as big or bigger than billboards,” he said.

But billboard companies can’t, which is the reason for S.B. 61.

Regarding S.B. 144, Reagan says cities have been going behind their backs and either paying off or making deals with landlords to get rid of billboards.

“There is a process under state law by which billboards can be purchased and a formula for coming up with the amount of just compensation that is to be paid,” he said.

Reagan says S.B. 144 would stop cities from circumventing that process and interfering with his private business relationships.

Now, Reagan and Scenic Utah each hope the legislature sees their messages clearly.

The Senate ended up circling S.B. 61 at its second reading, meaning action on it has been postponed.

A legislative committee was supposed to discuss S.B. 144 on Monday, but they ended up skipping it for another day.