JEFFERSON CITY - Representatives of Missouri's billboard industry came out in support of a compromise plan to limit new billboards only months after voters narrowly rejected a proposition that would have banned new roadside signs.
Bill May, executive director of the Missouri Outdoor Advertising Association, testified before the Senate Transportation Committee in support of a measure that aims to reduce the number of signs statewide from 14,000 to 11,000.
But supporters of Proposition A, last year's failed attempt to ban new billboards, said the new proposal would only temporarily cap the number of signs, though they said it could be an important vehicle for compromise.
The legislation, introduced by Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, would require that billboard owners remove two existing signs for every new one they wanted to install. The requirement would remain until the number of signs statewide fell by more than 20 percent.
It would also require the state to remove any vegetation or trees on state property that obscures an existing sign.
May said his group supports the bill because it reduces the number of billboards through a voluntary system instead of requiring the government to pay to remove signs.
Woody Cozad of Scenic Missouri, a group that supported last year's proposed billboard ban, said the bill would only temporarily limit the number of signs. He pointed out that as the bill reads, once the number of signs falls below 11,000, the bill's provisions would become moot.
"The clear implication of that is that when we hit 11,000, they can start getting permits and go right back up to any number as high as they want to go," Cozad said.
The committee also heard testimony for legislation introduced by Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, that would ban new billboards and free the state from requirements that it remove obstacles that block existing signs.
Essentially proposing a duplicate version of November's proposition, Jacob added a clarification that the measure would not cost the state any money.
"I personally think that that cost that was advertised by the opposition is what defeated" the ballot measure, Jacob said. "If they believed it wasn't going to cost them that much money, that would be the law of the land."
The outdoor advertising group said it will oppose Jacob's bill, claiming that it would could cost taxpayers more than $500 million, a major issue in last November's election.
"There's no way Senate Bill 330 is going to be adopted by the legislature after just being voted down by Missouri taxpayers," May said.