Lawmakers keep trying to clean up billboards
JEFFERSON CITY—Sexually-oriented billboards may become more discreet and fewer in number if either of two companion bills makes it through this year’s Missouri Legislature and becomes law.
Billboards became the subject of a lawsuit after passage of a 2004 law greatly restricting “adult entertainment” billboards. Though passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, the measure was challenged by several owners of adult entertainment stores.
The case was ultimately appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit where a three-judge panel ruled it to be too broad.
More specific restrictions relating to content, number, and size are spelled out in this year’s Senate Bill 27, introduced by Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee’s Summit, and House Bill 120, introduced by Rep. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg.
Testimony was given in hearings the week of Feb. 5 before the Senate Judiciary and Civil & Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and the House Special Committee on Government Affairs.
In introducing his bill to the House committee, Rep. Pearce spoke of driving with his family on Interstate 70 and seeing the multiplicity of suggestive billboards. “Unlike other forms of advertising, you can’t shut off a billboard. We as a state can do better,” he said.
He noted that a lot of people in the billboard industry rushed to support the current bill because they want a clean industry.
Pearce introduced Kerry Messer, lobbyist for Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) Christian Life Commission and founder of Missouri Family Network, who testified in favor of the bill. Questioned about free speech issues, Messer noted that freedom of speech “is subject to proper time, place and manner restrictions.”
He contended that the issue was about commercial speech and not about free speech. He referred to a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision which outlined a four-point test to determine whether speech may be restricted.
The four points include: 1) whether the activity is lawful and not misleading; 2) whether the governmental interest is substantial; 3) whether the restriction applies only to the state’s interest; and 4) whether it is the least restrictive means of addressing the state’s interest.
Messer referred to some of the billboard content as “pandering,” which he identified as advertising that highlights and draws attention to the sexual nature in order to appeal to the prurient interest of the observer.
“When families and children are daily faced with this pandering, they have no way of turning it off, no way of avoiding it,” he commented.
The Missouri Association of Club Executives, whose membership consists of approximately 30 adult product retail stores and cabarets all over the state, produced several people to testify in opposition to the billboard law. The association claims to provide 3,000 jobs and state sales tax revenues of $4.5 million.
Among those testifying was Gene Grunder, owner of a number of adult entertainment stores and a plaintiff in the 2004 lawsuit.
Grunder said the items in his store are available in other general merchandise stores, truck stops, and convenience stores where they are displayed in view of children. Children are not allowed in his stores.
He also noted that some billboard companies don’t take his ads and that he has no objection to their refusing them. His objection is to the state’s singling out his industry for restriction.
In concluding the hearing in the House committee, Rep. Pearce reminded the committee that the original 2004 law had passed overwhelmingly and was upheld twice by the circuit court before being overturned by the three-judge panel. The purpose of the current bill is to make the law more specific as to number, content and size of sexually-oriented billboards.
Both committees recommended “do pass” and sent their respective bills to the full House and Senate where they await action.