BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The House Transportation Committee killed a bill Tuesday that would have prevented Louisiana from constructing any new billboards, capping the total at the current 7,000.
The bill would have doubled the distance allowed between two billboards and prevented companies from purchasing ads more than 30 miles away from their physical locations, amended up to make the legislation more palatable.
The trucking industry said their insurance rates were skyrocketing because trial attorneys often target their industry and blame them for accidents. Some committee members shot that concept down, saying it used the billboards as a tool to go after lawyers rather than addressing their concerns directly.
“The elephant in the room is about attorneys, lawsuits, safety, driving, insurance, not the middleman, which is another business that provides income for families that are based in Louisiana," said Malinda White, D-Bogalusa.
“We’ve allowed an environment of litigation to be cultivated and perpetuated by what we see and read every day as we drive down our highways,” McFarland said in his opening statement. “It has just been a tool that’s been used to sow the seeds of an industry that has created a crisis and exploited our constituents.”
Lamar Advertising, headquartered in Baton Rouge, argued that limiting billboards to go after trial attorneys would lead to governmental control over advertisements on TV, radio, and in the newspaper.
Sen. Conrad Appel, R-New Orleans, sponsored similar legislation in the Senate, but it would have to come through this same committee, meaning the bill is likely dead.
Both bills proposed a need to eliminate potential distractions for drivers and beautify the state’s highways.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.