House Approves Bill To Shrink Billboards

A House-approved bill to limit the size of billboards would give companies 15 months to get the larger signs in place before the new restrictions take effect.

The bill passed 68-50 Wednesday would take effect July 1, 2003. The Senate version, which the House amended, would have gone in effect after the governor signed the bill into law.

The bill returns to the Senate for consideration of the change. The two sides could meet later in the session to work out differences.

Wednesday was the deadline for the House to act on Senate-passed general bills and the Senate on House bills. There is a later deadline for budget bills.

Both versions of the billboards measure would limit new signs to 672 square feet, down from the 1,212 square feet now allowed.

Existing double-decker signs would be allowed to remain but no new ones could be erected.

A similar bill passed last year but was vetoed by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

House Transportation Committee Chairman J.P. Compretta, D-Bay St. Louis, said many cities and some counties have banned billboards. He said the bill would harm those local ordinances but provide some uniformity.

"These smaller signs will enhance the beauty of our highways without hurting the ability of businesses to advertise,'' Compretta said.

Opponents argued the bill, with its delayed date of implementation, would play into the hands of the industry giant in Mississippi, Lamar Advertising Co.

Rep. Erik Fleming, D-Jackson, said Lamar would make a big push to get more land leases and deals for its outdoor signs to the detriment of the smaller companies. Fleming said the result would be that Lamar "keeps all his toys and everybody else has to play by their rules.''

"This Legislature should not be in the business of putting people out of business,'' he said.

Compretta said the bill gives no advantage to Lamar. He said smaller companies could go out and lease land and put up signs as well as anybody else.

"I don't see where this is excluding anybody,'' he said.