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Billboard law challenge rejected

Missouri- The billboard brouhaha continues.

A federal judge Wednesday rejected the latest challenge to Missouri’s new law barring sexually oriented billboards within a mile of state highways.

U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner ruled that the law did not prohibit adult businesses from advertising nonadult items such as food, gas and cigarettes.

“When read in its entirety, and in light of the unequivocal intent of the legislature to mitigate the adverse secondary effects associated with the sexually oriented aspects of sexually oriented businesses, (the statute) does not prohibit sexually oriented businesses from advertising non-adult items,” Fenner wrote.

The law was challenged by Steele Retail 37 LLC, doing business as Lion’s Den, which opened in August in the town of Steele. Steele said it wanted to put up a display sign reading “Lion’s Den Superstore Food Fuel Adult Exit Now” but feared it would be prosecuted under the law.

The law applies to strip clubs and other businesses that devote more than 10 percent of their display space to sexually oriented merchandise. Business owners who violate the law can be punished by up to 30 days in jail.

In August, Fenner rejected an earlier constitutional challenge to the law by Passions Video Inc., finding that it was a constitutional regulation of commercial speech. In the latest case, he addressed only Steele’s argument that the plain language of the law not only barred the advertising of adult items by sexually oriented businesses, but nonadult products as well.

The state of Missouri contended that the last provision made it clear that the statute aimed to combat only the adverse effects of sexually oriented advertising. That provision states that the law is designed “to mitigate the adverse secondary effects of sexually oriented businesses, to improve traffic safety, to limit harm to minors, and to reduce prostitution, crime, juvenile delinquency, deterioration in property values, and lethargy in neighborhood improvement efforts.”

Fenner also noted that Missouri had told the court it had no intention of enforcing the statute to prosecute the advertising of nonadult merchandise.

“The text of (the statute) does not suggest that the advertising of gasoline, apparel, food, or any other non-adult product is associated with the secondary effects described” in the statute’s last provision, Fenner wrote.


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