U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander today used a procedural move to strike from the Iraq Supplemental Appropriations bill a “billboard amnesty provision that suddenly treats as legal more than 20,000 billboard sites that have been illegal for 40 years.”
“This billboard amnesty provision is a big wet kiss to the billboard industry, and it’s a kissing line in which I don’t care to stand,” Alexander said.
The provision would grant amnesty to billboard sites damaged by hurricanes in 13 states from the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which was championed by former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. The Act allowed existing billboard sites that exceeded limits set by states (“nonconforming” billboards) to remain, but only until the end of their natural lifespan or destruction by severe weather.
“The owners of these billboards have known for 40 years that if they fell down, they could not be put back up,” Alexander said. “Undoing the legacy of Lady Bird Johnson in a bill that’s supposed to be about supporting our troops is not just an insult to her, it’s an affront to the troops and their families.”
Alexander noted that “the billboard amnesty provision could allow a huge number of permanent billboards in illegal sites.” There are 2,988 nonconforming sites in Tennessee, 2,214 in South Carolina and 912 in Alabama. Further information detailing the number of illegal sites in each state is attached.
As governor of Tennessee, Alexander worked with the Tennessee legislature to establish 10,000 miles of scenic parkways with no new billboards and no new junkyards. As chairman of President Reagan’s Commission on Americans Outdoors in 1985-86, he recommended a nationwide network of scenic highways.
Alexander’s motion, called raising a point of order, was not debatable and was ruled in Alexander’s favor directly by the Senate’s Presiding Officer. Because the ‘billboard amnesty’ provision was a legislative matter attached to an appropriations bill, the provision was in violation of the Senate’s rules and subject to the point of order.
Alexander sits on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal highways.