Rep. Jon Burns, right, is greeted by Rep. Rick Jasperse, left, after the House voted 98-69 to approve legislation that Burns sponsored that would allow billboard owners to clear-cut trees blocking motorists from seeing their signs Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011 at the state Capitol in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
ERRIN HAINES, Associated Press
ATLANTA — The Senate has approved legislation that would allow billboard owners to clear-cut trees blocking motorists from seeing their signs and strengthen the penalties on obscene advertisements.
The measure passed 37-19 on Tuesday. The amended proposal now heads back to the House, which approved the original bill last month after lengthy debate.
Billboard owners can currently remove some trees, including hardwood trees with trunks under eight inches in diameter, from state-owned property. Under the proposal, the only trees that would be spared are historic trees, trees planted as memorials or trees that are more than 75 years old.
Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, told his colleagues that the bill allows for local control.
"Most of us have made a decision on how we're going to vote on this," he said.
That didn't keep the Senate from debating the issue for nearly two hours, as the battle pitting billboards against trees is a perennial one at the state Capitol.
Sen. Joshua McKoon, R-Columbus, who voted against the bill after trying to amend it, said the proposal threatens the state's natural beauty.
"I believe that this legislation, though it is well-intentioned, will harm this vital resource," he said.
Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, showed senators examples of offensive billboards to support her amendment to the proposal, which would make those maintaining such advertisements guilty of a misdemeanor and attach a $5,000 fine for a first offense and a $10,000 fine for subsequent offenses.
"Unfortunately sex sells," Unterman said. "Obscenity laws are not enforced. I'm pro-business, but this is not the type of business the state of Georgia needs to be known by."
Unterman's amendment passed narrowly by a vote of 28-26.