Environmentalists Upset Over Florida's Billboard Bill

The bill would guarantee vegetation doesn't block or obscure billboards, and it got a preliminary thumbs up in the House of Representatives Wednesday.

Florida has more than 20,000 billboards, and lawmakers want to make sure you can see them. They want to create view zones of up to 500 feet where trees can not block the sign. Even along public right of ways, no trees could be planted and existing beautification projects might have to go.

Susie Caplowe with The Sierra Club says choosing billboards over trees totally sends the wrong message. "For folks who like to call themselves tree cities, or Tree City USA, maybe we’re going to become Billboard USA, because billboards have more rights than the taxpayers and beautification."

Some lawmakers worry the bill takes power away from cities and towns and hands it to the billboard companies. "It does require local governments to resolve their disputes between themselves and outdoor advertisers."

Those disputes could cost local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars if they refuse to take down the tree. But bill co-sponsor Anitere Flores says billboards serve a valuable purpose. "In order to just really help people who are coming into our state or maybe even coming into different cities, so they can better see restaurants in that area, malls in that area, different attractions in that area."

Even though many people think trees serve a valuable purpose, outdoor advertisers may have more pull in an election year. The billboard bill was rolled to third reading in the House Wednesday. That means it’s ready for a final vote. If the bill passes, it’ll move on to the Senate.