House approves bill extending electronic billboards range
Posted April 20
PHOENIX — The Arizona House approved amended legislation Thursday that would allow electronic billboards in some areas of Mohave County where they are now banned to protect the state's astronomy industry.
Senate Bill 1114 by Sen. Sonny Borrelli is the legislator's second attempt to add parts of Mohave County to areas where electronic billboards are allowed. A similar bill Borrelli sponsored attempting to bring electronic signs to western Arizona counties failed last year.
The latest bill would exempt areas of Mohave County within 40 miles of Bullhead City from a 2012 Arizona law that limits electronic billboards to central and southwest parts of the state and creates a corridor for dark skies to decrease light pollution. The law also forced the billboard industry to dim their displays at night and shut them off after 11 p.m. The amended measure would also exclude Lake Havasu City and places close to the Hoover Dam from the permitted areas.
The House approved the amended measure on a 35-18 vote. The Senate already approved the bill on a 20-10 vote in March.
Opponents of the latest measure say though it will likely not have a direct effect on the work local astronomers do, it could propel future legislation that will.
"I think this opens the door to undoing the compromise in 2012," John Barentine, a program manager for the International Dark-Sky Association said. "And, you know if this becomes law, probably what we will see is they will be back in the next session and they will want another expansion somewhere else in the state and eventually this is going to land on the doorstep of the astronomy community."
The dark sky community is concerned the billboards will create more light pollution and that they could affect sensitive technologies astronomers use to look at distant celestial bodies.
Amendments made during a committee hearing lowered the amount of light the signs would be able to emit and the number of billboards permitted in the new zone to 35.
Borrelli has said the legislation would only affect his district and would bring "parity to the rest of the state." Borrelli also has said he thinks allowing the electronic billboards in parts of Mohave County will create economic growth.
Rep. Regina Cobb said she worked with Borrelli and stakeholders over the last year to come up with a compromise. "We have come to an agreement on this and actually have an area that is sufficient for the people that want to advance their businesses and also protects some of the areas that did not want to have lighted billboards," Cobb said.
The 2012 law was the result of negotiations between the astronomy field and the outdoor advertising industry, which followed a ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals that banned electronic billboards along state highways.
The House's approval of the bill sends it back to the Senate for final approval before it heads to Gov. Doug Ducey's desk.