House passes billboard tree-cutting bill

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The Georgia House voted 98-69 Thursday to adopt HB 179, the annual bill introduced on behalf of the outdoor advertising industry to allow the removal of trees adjacent to billboards.

Unless the House votes to reconsider the bill next Monday, it will move to the Senate for consideration.

“This is my 17th session and in at least 15 or 16 of those, we have dealt with this issue,” said Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton).

Supporters of HB 179 said that passage of the legislation would create jobs and protect motorists from “dangerous” trees growing along the state’s highways.

“Outdoor advertisers are important to Georgians in many ways,” said Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newington), the bill’s sponsor.  “There are about 10,000 jobs affected by the outdoor advertising industry and its ability to advertise.”

The bill’s opponents disputed the jobs claims made by the bill’s sponsors.

“This bill is not about jobs, it’s simply about giving these large (billboard) companies preferential treatment,” Rep. Richard Smith (R-Columbus) said.  “How many actual businesses have contacted you about supporting this billboard bill?  I’ve had zero.”

“The billboard companies like to think this land belongs to them,” Smith added.  “Well, guess what?  It’s state property.  They should not be given the right to clear-cut our property simply for the right of making a buck.”

Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) called HB 179 a “government bailout” for financially ailing billboard owners.

“Enough is enough,” Oliver said.  “We do not need to expand — on our public land — their privilege to make a profit.”

The bill would allow billboard owners to remove all trees and vegetation within a “target view zone” along the highway where a billboard is located.  In return, billboards would have to be lowered to a maximum height of 75 feet.

HB 179 is the latest attempt to prune the state’s restrictions on cutting down or trimming trees that grow in front of billboards.  In recent years, billboard measures have been voted down in the Legislature after drawing the opposition of environmentalists and garden clubs.

“This bill is not an attempt to clear-cut Georgia,” Burns contended.  The measure actually narrows the view zone around a billboard that can be cut back, he said.

Other supporters of the bill said Georgia already has so much timberland that clearing the vegetation around billboards would make little difference in the state’s inventory of trees.

“We have 24 million acres of timberland,” Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough) said.  “The environmental argument just does not make any sense.  It’s just not a valid argument.”

© 2011 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: billboards , Jon Burns , Mary Margaret Oliver , Richard Smith , Tom McCall , tree removal