In what might be a first for the 2011 legislative session, business interests endured a tiny setback this morning when several members of both parties on the Senate Transportation Committee voiced concerns about plowing ahead with legislation put forth by the state billboard industry.
For decades, or course, North Carolina planners, local governments and environmentalists have fought with the billboard owners and promoters over the number and prominence of billboards along North Carolina’s roadways. As a general matter, North Carolina has had a lot more success in limiting them than many other states. Indeed, some stretches of major highways (most notably Interstate 40) have remained relatively pristine.
With the election of a new General Assembly that’s even more pro-business than past ones, however, the industry sensed an opening this year and prevailed upon Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown – a Jacksonville-area car dealer – to sponsor an industry “wish-list” bill  that would encourage tree cutting, reduce local control and expand the use of electronic “digital” billboards.
Fortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, Brown’s bill ran into a bit of a buzz saw in committee this morning. Not only was the bill opposed by speaker after speaker from various local government groups, the DOT and even the American Planning Association, but it also raised the hackles of some conservative Republican members — most notably Richard Stevens of Wake County.
Upon recognizing the way the committee wind was blowing, Brown backed off a little and explained that his intent in pushing the bill today was merely to get the discussion started. Stay tuned to see how much Stevens and the others force Brown to compromise in order to secure approval.
Given the G.A.’s record this year for doing the bidding of big business, it’s a safe bet that this was merely round one of a long debate.