Louisiana House lawmakers reject restrictions on new billboards

By  | 

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After three hours of debate, the House transportation committee killed a bill that would have placed a cap on billboards at the current number, around 7,000.

Rep. McFarland, R-Jonesboro, and Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, have each filed similar legislation. McFarland’s bill was killed on Tuesday, April 16 with a vote of 14-3.

Both bills proposed a need to eliminate potential distractions for drivers and beautify the state’s highways.

McFarland’s resolution would have increased billboard licensing fees, doubled the amount of space required between two billboards, and prevented the construction of additional billboards statewide. It also would have prevented a company from purchasing ad space more than three miles away from their place of business.

During Tuesday’s debate, McFarland offered an amendment that would have allowed businesses to buy billboards within 30 miles of their physical locations.

“It’s just gotten out of hand,” McFarland said in an interview prior to the debate. “You can’t go down a highway, state highway, or any of the interstates now without seeing a billboard every 500 feet.”

He noted that about 2 percent of the nation’s highways are in Louisiana, yet 10 percent of the nation’s billboards stand tall next to those roads.

“They’ve done real well at what they’re trying to do,” he said. “They’re innovative, attention-getters. People do look up doing 65, 75, 85 miles an hour on the interstate. You’re spending more time looking up than ahead.”

The bill was opposed by outdoor advertising giants like Lamar, which is headquartered in Baton Rouge. They called the legislation “anti-business.”

“We consider it an assault on our Louisiana company and more importantly on the many Louisiana owned businesses that work with us every day,” Lamar representatives said in a statement issued before the debate. “The effects of the proposed legislation are far-reaching and misguided.”

About 1,000 of the state’s billboard advertisements belong to trial attorneys. Many of the attorneys’ billboards target big rig 18-wheeler drivers, and the trucking industry backs the proposed legislation.

There is some thought the battle over the billboards is not about their location or frequency, but content.

“This is a way for them to say, ‘Look, we’ve got too many billboards causing issues. It’s causing distractions on the roadway and it’s causing hard feelings by a big industry,'" political analyst, Jim Engster, said. “We all see the ones that say, ‘Hit by a big rig? Call me.’ and this is a battle between truck drivers and trial lawyers and the billboards have kind of been a peripheral part of it.”

McFarland says the legislation was not intended to target content. However, that became the focus of Tuesday’s debate.

“I’m not against business advertising, I just think we’ve got to put the brakes on at some point and ask, ‘When is enough enough?’” McFarland asked. “I’m willing to work with the [outdoor advertising industry] to adjust some things in the resolution so that it doesn’t cost them, create a burden for them financially, and for them to still be a viable business.”

Appel’s bill is still alive, but the future of that bill could change based on this outcome.

Copyright 2019 WAFB. All rights reserved.