'Scheme of blackmail by the federal government'

At the insistence of the federal government, the South Dakota Legislature just took a step to tighten its laws about where billboards can be placed.

Current South Dakota law limits interstate billboards to areas zoned commercial or industrial, within one mile of an interchange. Even that law was an imposition after Congress passed the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which took away 10 percent of a state’s highway funds if they didn’t comply with restrictions on billboards near federal highways.

South Dakota tried to sidestep that law by allowing so-called strip-zoning — effectively allowing the creation of commercial or industrial zones for the sole purpose of allowing highway advertising. That decision brought the state into conflict with the federal government, and South Dakota’s defense of its law failed in circuit court in the 1973 case South Dakota v. Volpe.

Today, the state Department of Transportation brought a change in the state’s zoning language, at the insistence of the federal government, dealing with the same issue.

HB1036 provides that billboards aren’t allowed in an otherwise compliant commercial or industrial zone if the zone is “created primarily to permit outdoor advertising structures is not recognized as lawfully enacted for purposes of this section.”

It passed the House Transportation Committee this morning, but only after protests from some of the more conservative members of the committee.

Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, called it a “scheme of blackmail by the federal government.”

Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls, agreed.

"It really sticks in my craw that the federal government comes in and sticks their nose into our business," Steele said.

But he recognized the reality that not passing this law could cost South Dakota around $15 million annually in federal highway money.

"But under the circumstances, we don’t have much choice," Steele said.

The law change won’t make any existing billboards come down. They are grandfathered in and can remain and be maintained until they are taken down or destroyed.

HB1036 passed 8-4 and now heads to the full House.