Arizona Senate votes to extend electronic billboards range

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PHOENIX (AP) -

The full Arizona Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow electronic billboards in some areas of Mohave County where they are now banned to protect the state's astronomy industry.

Four Democrats joined 16 Republicans in pushing the bill forward on a 20-10 vote, marking yet another clash between astronomers and the outdoor advertising industry.

Senate Bill 1114 by Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, is the legislator's second attempt to add parts of Mohave County to areas where electronic billboards are allowed. A similar bill by him to bring electronic signs to western Arizona counties failed last year.

Passage would mean allowing areas of Mohave County within 60 miles of Laughlin, Nevada, to become exempt 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. It also forced the billboard industry to dim their displays at night and shut them off after 11 p.m.

Borrelli amended his bill during a committee hearing to lower the amount of light the signs emit and the number permitted and cut the area where they are allowed.

Critics of the latest measure say it would greatly threaten Arizona's dark skies and the work local astronomers do with three of the nation's largest telescopes.

[RELATED: Astronomers, billboard companies clash over signs that shine]

"Our fear is if the governor signs it (Sen. Borrelli) will be back next year," said John Barentine, program manager for the International Dark-Sky Association based in Tucson. "If it passes that's a prelude for what's coming down the road."

The dark sky community is concerned the billboards will create more light pollution and that they could affect the sensitive technologies they use to look at distant celestial bodies. But some astronomy groups dropped their opposition after Borrelli's amendment.

Borrelli said the legislation will only affect his district and would bring "parity to the rest of the state." Borrelli also said he thinks allowing the electronic billboards in parts of Mohave County will create economic growth.

"We really don't need more outdoor lights for Arizona," Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, said. "We're a leader in the astronomy field and astronomers from around the world come here because of our dark skies."

The 2012 law was the result of negotiations between the astronomy community and the outdoor advertising industry, which followed a ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals that banned electronic billboards along state highways.

Wednesday's vote sends the measure to the House for consideration.

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