CITIES SHARE LOCAL CONTROL MESSAGE ON ELECTRONIC BILLBOARDS

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security held a public hearing on S.B. 971 on Wednesday, March 16.  The bill would, among other things: (1) require the governor’s Emergency Management Division, with cooperation from the Texas Department of Transportation and emergency management directors, to create an emergency information network system consisting of at least 200 digital displays to display local public health and safety information and availability of fuel, food, lodging, and pharmacy services in certain urban areas; (2) require the division to contract with vendors who will erect and maintain the signs within city limits or within extraterritorial jurisdiction of a city; (3) allow the vendors to display commercial messages when emergency information is not being displayed; and (4) allow the erection of such signs without requiring compliance with municipal sign ordinances or permission from the city in which the sign is located.

Under the guise of public safety emergency messaging, it appears that the bill would actually allow commercial sign companies to build digital billboards in urban areas to be used for commercial advertising when emergency messages are not being displayed.  Even more disturbing, the bill would expressly preempt city and state sign regulations.   At the hearing, several city officials testified about the importance of local control over signs and emphasized the important safety and aesthetic considerations the cities have made when choosing whether to allow electronic signs on a local level.  The witnesses agreed that emergency messaging is valuable, but they testified that present signage and other media outlets adequately serve this purpose.

Due to a substantial amount of opposition, the bill was left pending in committee.  To watch the hearing, go to http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/senate/commit/c640/c640.htm.


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