Lady Bird’s Law and its Legacy
Billboards that are located within 660 feet of federal-aid roads are regulated under the Highway Beautification Act (HBA) of 1965, also known as “Lady Bird’s Law.” Federal-aid roads include all national highways and many other public roads that are not classified as local roads or rural minor collectors.
Passed by Congress and signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the HBA:
- Requires states to maintain “effective control” of outdoor advertising along federal highways or else be subject to a loss of 10 percent of their federal-aid highway fund.
- Prohibits billboards in areas with non-commercial activity.
- Prohibits new billboards that don’t conform to certain size, spacing, and lighting requirements.
When the HBA was passed, each state was required to enter into a mandatory agreement with the federal government that set forth sign controls in commercial and industrial areas based on customary usage within the individual state at the time the agreement was signed.
Billboards that are not located along federal aid roads are regulated by local sign ordinances that vary by community. Local cities, towns, or counties may impose stricter regulations on outdoor advertising than the state or federal government does. Additionally, nonconforming signs on state or local roads not covered by the Highway Beautification Act are often governed by local ordinances that do not allow them to be substantially altered or expanded either.
Who owns the land on which billboards are sited?
Billboard companies usually lease the land where billboards are erected from third-party landlords. In almost all states, billboard structures are considered trade fixtures permanently affixed to the land unless otherwise characterized in the lease agreement between the landowner and the sign company.
The value of billboards is derived directly from public use of the roadways.
Billboards and the First Amendment
Most local jurisdictions have the right to enact strict bans on digital signs in spite of state rules that may permit them. In almost all states, localities may ban billboards outright or may restrict the size and types of billboards that are allowed.
The only thing they cannot restrict is the content and what appears on the billboard.
In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of digital billboard bans in the case of City of Austin v. Reagan.
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