New bill would cap number of Louisiana billboards, force some to relocate or come down

There are roughly 7,000 billboards in Louisiana. (WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - UPDATE: (AP) - Lawmakers have rejected efforts to restrict new highway billboards in Louisiana.

The House transportation committee voted 14-3 Tuesday against the measure after a three-hour hearing.

Rep. Jack McFarland, a Winnfield Republican, sought to put a moratorium on new billboards across the state. The state's trucking industry backed the proposal. Supporters said the signs can be distractions for truckers and other motorists, causing accidents.

But the proposal faced heavy opposition from Baton Rouge-based Lamar Advertising Company, one of the nation's largest outdoor advertising firms.

The company called the measure "anti-business," suggesting it was being wedged into a fight between the trucking industry and trial lawyers over anti-trucker advertising.

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate, though it's unclear if Tuesday's vote will stall that measure.

Original Story (WAFB):
Legislation filed for debate this session seeks to cap the number of billboards in Louisiana at the current number, around 7,000.

Rep. McFarland, R-Jonesboro, and Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, have each filed similar legislation. McFarland says the goal is to eliminate potential distractions for drivers and beautify the state’s highways.

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

“It’s just gotten out of hand,” McFarland said. “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 is 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. “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 is not intended to target content, acknowledging that may become the focus of the 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.”

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