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Top 7 Regulatory Actions in 2016

Date: December 05, 2016

OAAA's Ken Klein with the biggest regulatory developments of the year.

The billboard industry won in court and expanded the map where digital billboards are regulated/allowed. Revenue-hungry governments continued to explore commercial advertising on the highway right of way.

In the waning days of the Obama Administration, its Department of Labor issued new rules for climbing on billboards.

Here are the biggest regulatory developments of the year.

Victory in Court

On September 6, a three-judge panel of the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously rejected Scenic America’s attack on digital billboards.

The federal appeals court said Scenic lacked standing to bring its claim about administrative procedure. Further, the court said the government’s Guidance to the states issued in 2007 did not violate the federal Highway Beautification Act (HBA).

Independent legal scholars called the outcome a total defeat for Scenic America, which plans to ask the US Supreme Court to take the case (the deadline to petition the high court is today December 5).

Fallout from the Reed case

Courts in four states (GA, RI, TN, and TX) considered challenges to state billboard rules based on a 2015 Supreme Court ruling against content-based sign regulation (Reed v. Town of Gilbert).

On August 26, a state appeals court in Texas invalidated key sections of the Texas Highway Beautification Act on grounds that the Act violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech (Auspro Enterprises v. Texas DOT). The state is seeking further legal review.

Two state Supreme Courts supported digital billboards

The Nevada Supreme Court, on September 16, denied Scenic Nevada’s request for a rehearing, effectively ending a long-running legal battle against digital billboards in Reno.

A day earlier, the New Jersey Supreme Court also ruled in favor of digital billboards, overturning a local ban as unconstitutional suppression of free speech.

Expansion of digital billboard regs

Nearly all states with billboards have taken steps to regulate/allow digital billboards. In Montana, new regulations took effect August 20.

This year, Nevada and Montana incorporated the industry’s lighting standard into their regulations (brightness is limited to 0.3 foot candles above surrounding light).

Sign “sponsorships”

Seeking new revenue sources, Texas DOT is pushing a plan to sell changeable message “sponsorships” on official highway signs. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) objected.

Ads in the right of way

California’s Legislature considered but declined to approve a proposal to allow LED commercial advertising on the right of way. Proponents said ads on the right of way would generated needed funds for transportation. Opponents argued safety, aesthetics, and government competition against investment-backed expectations of billboard permit holders outside the right of way.


On November 17, federal regulators issued 1,200+ pages of regulations on fall protection affecting millions of workers, including billboard installers.

The new rule takes effect January 17, three days before the next President is sworn into office. It would phase out an exemption issued for billboard climbers granted in 1993 based on the industry’s strong safety record.

To learn more, sign up for OAAA’s webinar scheduled December 14 at 2:00 pm ET, featuring safety experts Chuck Wigger of Lamar and Mike Mielke of Adams + Fairway.

Click here to learn more.


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