A state Senate bill that would ease billboard regulation isn't going down well with local officials.

"Somebody's got to answer for this," Salt Lake County Councilman Jim Bradley said. "I can't believe Sen. Waddoups would carry the water of the Reagan Outdoor Co. like this."

Senate Majority Leader Michael Waddoups, R-West Jordan, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 53, which relaxes several restrictions on billboards. Specifically, it would extend the time a local billboard building permit is valid, restrict the ability of localities to remove billboards without providing compensation and requires localities to allow billboard companies to relocate nonconforming billboards if they are allowed to be rebuilt.

The bill was drafted after lobbyists from Reagan National Advertising, the largest billboard company in the state and heavy campaign contributor to numerous legislators, approached Waddoups. He said that he agreed with their proposals because of an imbalance with the way local governments can condemn the signs.

"Even than the provisions being fair, the current practice of condemnation struck me as being unfair," Waddoups said.

Localities are currently allowed to remove a billboard, without compensating the billboard company, if the company lied in its application or if the billboard is unsafe, in disrepair or abandoned. Waddoups' bill removes the false application provision and heightens the evidence standard by which the billboard's status is judged.

"It's clearly a ratcheting down of local authority," said Karl Hendrickson of the Salt Lake County Attorney's Office.

"It's an end-around us," Salt Lake County Councilman Russell Skousen said. "This ties our hands."

Councilmen were upset not only because they generally don't like billboards but because they feel Waddoups' bill encroaches on their planning and zoning authority, "the reason local governments exist," Bradley said.

Lincoln Shurtz, a legislative analyst with the Utah League of Cities and Towns, said he is trying to soften some of the bill's provisions. It is now in the Senate Business and Labor Committee.

The Salt Lake County Council Tuesday resoundingly passed a resolution condemning the bill. In response to a suggestion that the council recommend the bill be changed, Bradley, a staunch opponent of billboards, said, "Change it? How can you change a bill this bad? . . . We ought to put him (Waddoups) in the back row and make a believer out of him."

Another Waddoups bill, Senate Bill 177, would require tax assessment of billboards without taking into account their value as advertising vehicles. That bill is now before the entire Senate.

E-mail: aedwards@desnews.com