Politics & Government

Facing rejection by lawmakers, Transportation Cabinet delays rule change on digital billboards

FRANKFORT — It's back to the drawing board for the state Transportation Cabinet on its proposed regulations to allow more digital LED billboards throughout the state and let billboard owners cut trees on public rights of way that block their outdoor advertisements.

A legislative review panel was ready to consider a motion by Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, to reject the proposed regulations Tuesday when state Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock and the cabinet's chief legal counsel, Rebecca Goodman, immediately asked for more time to work on them.

Adams then withdrew her motion to declare the regulations deficient.

It appears the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee will not take up the regulations until at least next month.

"We are glad to have the opportunity to work more with the committee but we are disappointed they were not accepted today," said Hancock after the meeting.

He described the state's current billboard regulations as "archaic."

Marlene Grissom, president of Scenic Kentucky, which opposes the proposed regulations, said she was "semi-happy" that the regulations were not adopted Tuesday.

"We need to keep on working to be sure they are never accepted," Grissom said.

She said a federal lawsuit on the issue may be decided later this month and that could give the state legislative panel more guidance.

Scenic Kentucky and other environmental groups contend that the proposed regulations will clutter the state with more billboards, distract Kentucky drivers and lower property values.

The billboard industry claims the proposed regulations would decrease the number of billboards in the state, and that vegetation would be removed in an environmentally responsible manner.

The Transportation Cabinet presented the proposed regulations last May after about 18 months of meetings with the billboard industry, environmentalists and state officials.

Adams said she has busy highway corridors in her Jefferson County district and does not want them to become "junky" with more billboards.

The billboard industry has pushed state lawmakers for at least 14 legislative sessions to create a new law that would allow them to cut vegetation on public rights of way that obstruct the view of billboards located on private property, but the General Assembly has repeatedly rebuffed the idea.

The industry now hopes to bypass lawmakers with administrative regulations.

The legislature's review committee did accept a change to the cabinet's proposed regulations.

As initially proposed, the regulation would allow billboard companies to take down four traditional billboards to create one new LED billboard, or the companies could take down three static billboards to convert one static billboard into an LED billboard, which has an electronic screen that cycles through advertisements.

The committee changed that to six traditional billboards to create a new LED billboard and five to convert a static billboard into an LED billboard.