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Astronomers React to Billboard Bill Approved by State Senate

The Arizona Senate has voted to allow companies to erect lighted billboards along state highways. Billboard companies asked the Legislature to change the law after a recent decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals that bans electronic billboards along freeways. And astronomers are not happy with the bill. 

Astronomers say the billboards threaten the dark skies needed for their work, which they argue is a big industry for Arizona. 

Lori Allen is the Deputy Director of Kitt Peak National Observatory.  She says astronomy brings in $250 million annually to the state and provides 3,300 jobs. 

"Because we’ve worked so hard in Arizona to keep our skies dark, we are able to attract large new research projects to the observatories in this state," said Allen. "Unless we’re able to protect our skies, so this is the state of choice we will run the risk of losing large projects in the future."

Projects like a 100 million dollar project funded by the Department of Energy planned for Kitt Peak or the 130 million dollar project Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff is competing for.

Democrats unsuccessfully fought to add a provision to the bill that bars the billboards within 75 miles of an observatory.

Republican Representative Bob Robson says that would have banned billboards across the state. Robson, who sponsored the bill, says passing the legislation would mean hundreds of billboard industry jobs.

"If you take it down to the manufacturer of the billboard, if you take it down to the people who maintain the billboard, if you take it down to the repair of the billboard, and the advertising that goes on the billboard and the jobs that that helps create," said Robson.

Robson says local governments would still be allowed to regulate the signs. The bill now goes to the governor.