State legislators will be considering a bill that would open more of Arizona to lighted digital billboards.

The current law limits where these displays can be located in a defined corridor from Phoenix along I-10 and I-8 to the state line at California on the way to San Diego.

HB 2507 would expand that definition to include most of Mohave and La Paz counties, up to the Utah state line. Lamar Advertising Company, one of the largest outdoor advertising companies in North America with more than 315,000 displays across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, is behind the bill, which is being sponsored by Lake Havasu Rep. Sonny Borrelli.

This bill should sound an alarm for Sierra Vista and Cochise County residents. A bit of history will remind us why.

For more than a year beginning in 2014, the city and county worked hard to establish light standards that protected our night skies and still serve the interests of the local business community. At the state level, legislation was introduced in 2012, after outdoor advertising companies began populating the Phoenix area with digital billboards. Legislators negotiated the language of the current state law with representatives of these companies and only after it became clear there was nothing to stop the industry from erecting lighted billboards all over Arizona.

Unlike Lamar or other well-funded groups who pay the costs of lobbying state lawmakers for special interest legislation, the astronomy “industry” in Arizona doesn’t appear to have a political ground game. In 2012, a collection of enthusiasts, scholars, clubs and enlightened civic leaders stepped forward to create public awareness of the value that darks skies provide to Arizona. Enough lawmakers agreed — including Gov. Jan Brewer — and the existing corridor was defined.

Now just four years later state legislators will again be tasked with reviewing whether more digital billboards should decorate Arizona highways. The question will again call on citizens, clubs and everyone who looks at our night skies with wonder, to speak out against further erosion of a state law that was carefully negotiated after an aggressive effort by outdoor advertising companies to erect billboard wherever it was financially feasible.

If anything, lawmakers must recognize that the value of dark skies in Arizona is even greater today than it was when the existing law was adopted in 2012. We’re confident Lamar and other outdoor advertising companies have been erecting digital displays in other states in the subsequent years, contributing to light pollution elsewhere.

Speak up! Speak out! Passage of HB 2507 will unfavorably erode an existing state law that protects one of Arizona’s most precious natural assets — it’s dark skies.

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