On April 4, 2002, Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed house bill 715 into law, which requires local governments to pay just compensation to billboard owners when they require the removal of billboards within their jurisdictions. The Governor stated, “The taking, whether direct or indirect, of private property is serious business. It should require extraordinary effort on the part of government to effectuate. Imagine a government that could amortize your home or your business as a means of taking your property.” The bill had previously passed the House by a vote of 91 to 17 and the Senate by a vote of 29 to 8.
The new law provides for a nonbinding arbitration panel to come up with a list of roadways where the billboards can be relocated. If the billboards cannot be relocated the local government must then compensate billboard owners. Compensation has typically ranged from thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. An article in the St. Petersburg Times reported that, “in recent years, the average billboard in Florida has been appraised at $3,000 for tax purposes in contrast to the $120,000 billboard owners claimed when governments tried to condemn them.” This statement reflects a major contradiction faced by billboard owners as a growing number of communities are starting to call for billboards to be valued the same for taxes as they are for condemnation.
Local government representatives were not happy about the Governor’s decision. Orange County officials estimated the new law could cost the county $13 million. Pasco County Commissioner Steve Simon said, “I’m not going to pay the kind of money they are talking about.” The City of Orlando had previously passed an ordinance requiring all billboards to be removed from city streets by 2007. The new law will likely stop Orlando from removing over 100 signs without paying just compensation. Orlando officials were hopeful that they could still reach an agreement with billboard owners but conceded that the new law would leave them without much negotiating influence.
Governor Bush acknowledged the decision was not easy saying, “This issue is especially difficult since I am a firm believer in both local control and property rights.” He said the bill “strikes an adequate balance between important principals.” Representative Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach, supported the bill even though she had strong pressure from County officials. Rep. Kosmas said, “It’s a private property-rights issue 100 percent. If a city wants something whether land for right-of-way or preservation it should be paid for. If they wanted to make it a priority, they would.”