Bill to Ban Sexually Explicit Billboards Returns

Michael Hayes
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The lawmakers who fought to limit the visibility and impact of the pornography industry in their state by drafting legislation that would ban sexually suggestive billboards along state highways have returned to the drawing board four months after a federal appeals court determined the bill was unconstitutional.

The new legislation will address the same issue, but it will be tailored to address the concerns expressed by the federal court, the lawmakers said.

Sen. Matt Bartle, who drafted the previous legislation, which he modeled after a New Jersey statute, said his proposal bans adult cabarets and sexually oriented businesses from advertising on billboards within one mile of the state highways, if the billboards display images or words that pertain to the adult aspects of the business.

For businesses located within a mile of the highway, Bartle created an exception, which allows them to display only two signs outside. One sign may identify the business and include hours of operation and contact numbers. The second sign must be a notice denying entry to minors.

“Sexually oriented businesses and adult cabarets are degrading Missouri’s landscape with lurid and suggestive advertising,” Bartle said. “These measures will place meaningful regulations on an industry that refuses to police itself.”

Rep. David Pearce filed a similar bill in the Missouri House of Representatives.

Both chambers of the Missouri legislature will address the bills in the next legislative session, which begins Jan. 3.

“This legislation will create a more favorable impression of our state,” Pearce said. “If we ignore this problem, it will only get worse, so we need to do something about it. These measures are designed to reduce the negative effects these billboards and businesses have on our society.”

Bartle said the new bills should be able to pass constitutional muster this time around. However, both the previous version of the bill and the current proposals call for the same substantive restrictions.

In August a three-judge panel for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the ban an unconstitutional regulation of commercial speech in siding with a consortium of adult retail stores and strip clubs that joined forces to sue state Attorney General Jay Nixon from enforcing the law.

The state “failed to make a showing that more limited speech regulation would not have adequately served the state’s interest,” the panel said.

“The courts gave us guidance on what needed to be corrected in the previous law, and we have responded with legislation that will meet the demands of Missourians and pass constitutional scrutiny,” Bartle said. “Our communities did not ask for a fight with the pornography industry, but we will make it clear to the purveyors of porn that the law is on the side of Missouri families.”