NASHVILLE - Tennesseans would see advertising displayed on state Transportation Department HELP trucks under a bill approved Wednesday by a House subcommittee.
Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, said he introduced the legislation after seeing similar trucks in Georgia emblazoned with ads for a national insurance company. The Georgia program raises $1.4 million annually, he said.
A fiscal analysis of Dean's bill estimates it would raise about $324,000 annually for Tennessee's transportation program. The state's lime-green HELP trucks respond to incidents that have the most impact on freeways in major metropolitan areas including Chattanooga.
It passed the House Finance Subcommittee on a voice vote Wednesday, and the bill is moving in the Senate as well.
Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, questioned Dean's proposal to allow advertising from private companies on state government vehicles.
"So then, if I'm an independent insurance agent who cannot afford several million dollars of advertising a year, that's just my bag because the guy down the street who can afford it, he gets to buy the sponsorship and that gives him an edge over me," Shaw said. "Doesn't this affect free enterprise?"
Noting he had discussed the issue previously with Shaw, a radio broadcaster, Dean said, "I understand how you feel it might affect your business and revenues for your industry. ... I respect that."
Shaw said it is not an issue of competition for him but for businesses that cannot afford the ads, which could be bid out statewide, regionally or locally.
"I've thought about this," Shaw said. "I don't think it's going to hurt the broadcast industry at all. But I think it's going to hurt small business."
Committee members also approved on voice vote another Dean measure that would allow companies to advertise on the state's 511 phone line, which gives callers information about road and travel conditions. The move would raise an estimated $400,000 annually.
Given transportation funding problems, Dean said, the state can use every penny it can get.
And a third Dean measure also passed Wednesday, establishing the state's Blue Alert system to provide rapid dissemination of information to aid in detection of people when a law enforcement officer is killed, injured or suspiciously missing in the line of duty.
Dean had introduced the legislation earlier this year, but he said it was especially appropriate given the shooting death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin, who was gunned down Saturday while responding to a pawn shop robbery on Brainerd Road.