The state of Hawaii has been enforcing limitations on outdoor advertising ever since the creation of the notorious “Billboard Ban” statute in 1927. These restrictions have been widely regarded as a step in the right direction towards preserving the natural beauty and scenery of the island. Today, we can thank the Hawaii legislature for the lack of billboards and disruptive advertising devices as we admire everything that Hawaii has to offer in its natural state. The first part of this article is intended to explain the law on the books and the statute’s original intent. The second part covers the real life implementation of the law and comments on its effectiveness as a whole.
I. Law on the Books
This statute is located in chapter 445 of part IV of the 2015 Revised Hawaii Statutes. Sections §445-111 to §445-121 place regulations on any outdoor advertising devices such as billboards, signs, posters, and other displays which are designed or used for the principal purpose of having outdoor advertising devices placed, posted, or fastened upon them (Part IV, 2015). The intent of this statute is to “conserve and develop the natural beauty of the State” and “foster sightliness and physical good order” (Part IV, §445-113, 2015).
The first version of this statute was designed by the Outdoor Circle, an urban beautification group. The organization was set on preserving the beauty of the island and saw it necessary to push forward a statute that would accomplish that goal. They were concerned with what advertising would do to the island because of how heavily it relies on tourism — more tourism corresponds to a higher motive for advertising. As such, the law was originally created in 1927 and Hawaii became the first state to place regulations on advertising. The law quickly became known as the “Billboard Ban” (Christensen, 2000). Since then it has been revised, but it is difficult to find exactly what components of the statute were repealed in 1982. The current version of this statute is from chapter 445 of the 2015 Revised Hawaii Statutes and consists of 9 of the original 13 subsections that cover definitions, exceptions, regulations, enforcement, and penalties.
The specifics of the statute regulate any outdoor advertising devices, including ones on vehicles. “It shall be unlawful for any person to paste, post, paint, print, nail, tack, or otherwise fasten any card, banner, handbill, sign, poster, outdoor advertising device, or notice of any kind or cause the same to be done, on any curbstone, lamppost, utility pole, streetlight pole, hydrant, bridge, tree, street sign, traffic sign, or traffic light upon any public property in the State” (Part IV, 2015). Violation of the statute is to be enforced by a civil suit, a fine of up to $500, or imprisonment for up to one month. Additional fines may be imposed if the advertisement is not taken down after a specified time.
Proponents and Opponents:
Many residents are proponents of the law because it is mainly what keeps their island so beautiful. They enjoy a view free of advertisements and claim that it’s a small price to pay for living in paradise (Christensen, 2000). Individuals and collective organizations such as outdoor or environmentalist groups are the main supporters of the statute because of the effects that it has had on keeping the land pristine. Opponents consist mainly of large businesses that profit off of tourism. They question this law because it imposes difficulties for them to advertise their services, or so they say; but others argue that it was beneficial because it made them realize that billboards were not very effective after all (Goodson, 2012). Candidates running for office have previously complained that the billboard ban affects their chance of winning, however a new form of campaigning called “sign waiving” has arisen in Hawaii to combat this issue, and has since not been a problem.
II. Law in Action
To post a billboard in acceptable locations, one must pay an annual fee of no more than $100 to obtain a license, followed by an additional annual fee of $25 per billboard (Part IV, §445-113, 2015). If the billboard is to be placed on a property other than the individuals, the person must get written or verbal consent of the owner and prove that they have given a legal notice of their plans (Part IV, §445-115, 2015). These payments and requirements regulate compliance with the statute because any billboard discovered without proper implementation is subject to excess fines and the owner could be sued in court.
Though the primary form of regulation is through fines, enforcement by civil suit and/or arrest is applicable. If the improper placement of an outdoor advertising device is suspected, the owner of the land which it is on is entitled to bring a suit. Any citizen can also file a petition for a civil suit if the advertising device clearly obstructs the natural beauty of the land. If the device is deemed improperly posted, the owner of it shall be fined not less than $25 nor more than $500, or imprisoned not more than one month, or both (Part IV, §445-120, 2015). On top of this, Failure to remove the posted material within the time specified (72 hours) is punishable by an additional fine of not less than $100 nor more than $200 per posted material, or community service of not less than ten hours nor more than twenty hours, or both (Part IV, §445-121, 2015). It is common for violators to comply with the enforcement rules after receiving a fine if they have improperly posted a billboard. As such, there are not many recent reports on the frequency of complications with enforcement.
Hawaii’s advertising laws apply to residents or visitors regardless of what they are saying or how they are saying it (Outdoor Circle, 2014). As such, the enforcement of this statute is uniformly implemented to the public and is applicable to everyone in Hawaii. Public officers in performance of a public duty are exempt from the regulations for obvious reasons that they are posting on behalf of the state (Part IV, §445-114, 2015). An issue of bias may arise when relying on the discretion of the officer. Anyone can report a violation of the statute, however officers in particular can exhibit biased discretion when dealing with residents or companies that they may have had problems with in the past. For example, an acquaintance of mine previously resided in Hawaii with a friend who owned a food shack and would post small signs to attract customers. Though he was licensed and properly posted his billboards, specific officers would harass him about it because of their personal relationships with him. Not much can come of this if the owner of the billboard followed the regulations, however this is an unfortunate issue that still occurs.
Because of its impact on advertising, this statue has been challenged in court at least a few times. First, in State v. Diamond Motors Inc (1967), a man was charged with the improper posting of a billboard that was too large after he received notice but failed to remove it. He had to appear in court and argued that aesthetics could not be controlled within the city’s police power but was found guilty in the end. Then, in 2006, the validity of the law was challenged against the first amendment right to free speech in Center for Bio-Ethical Reform v. Honolulu. The 9th circuit court ruled that it does not violate the first amendment because Honolulu’s airspace is a nonpublic forum, the Ordinance is reasonable, the viewpoint neutral, and it’s rationally related to legitimate governmental interests. Hawaii has a general rule that nobody – no matter what they are saying – can express themselves through billboards. Though this statute has been challenged, it is not evident that any court case has affected its scope or enforcement.
The challenges to the law in court have never succeeded in altering the content of it. As a result, certain forms of advertising and campaigning have changed in Hawaii. One of the consequences of a statute that limits posters, including campaign posters, is the effect it’s had on election season and prospective candidates. Since the enactment, this statute has kept citizens on their feet as a new tradition called “sign waving” was invented. To avoid penalty for posting campaign material, candidates and their supporters spend hours waving signs advertising the candidates to passing cars (Woo, 2010). This statute has also been given credit for encouraging other states and cities to follow suit in regulating outdoor advertising. Since the passing of this statute, other states have used it as precedent to do the same, like in Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego (1980) and there are still cities, like Los Angeles, using Hawaii as an example throughout their current attempt to regulate advertising (Mahdawi, 2015 and Miller, 1990). Lastly, after Hawaii reaffirmed this statute, the state saw a 6% reduction in solid waste (Cooney 2012). Though there are many factors that contribute to reducing material waste, it is safe to assume that limiting billboards definitely didn’t increase the amount of waste, providing a connection between the statute and the unintended consequences as well as it’s effectiveness.
Impact and Effectiveness:
Along with the positive impacts such as reducing political advertisements and influencing other states to implement their own regulations on billboards, this statue has been very effective in terms of accomplishing its intended goal of preserving the natural beauty of the land. Hawaii, along with the other 3 states that impose billboard restrictions, are known as the most beautiful and scenic places in the United States. In fact, none of these states have ever been penalized by the Highway Beautification Act for having too many billboards because there are rarely any! On the contrary, Florida, Georgia, and California are frequently shunned for allowing between 8,000-12,000 billboards to be posted throughout their states (bMedia, 2018). It is no doubt that Hawaii has succeeded in reducing the amount of billboards, thereby ultimately protecting the natural environment. Hawaii’s advertising regulations even outperformed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1958, which established incentives for controlling signs along highways by offering an increase in federal funding to the states that demonstrated successful prohibition of billboards outside commercial zones (Loshin, 2007). The Act is often deemed ineffective because only 7 states managed to earn the small incentive, while Hawaii’s state remained completely billboard free and was the first of those top 7 states (Loshin, 2007).
Though Hawaii has done quite well in reducing the amount of billboards throughout the state and maintaining the natural beauty of the land, there are some ideas for reform that could increase the overall effectiveness. One of these improvements involves increasing the cost to obtain a license. Its current $100 fee may be what is holding the state back from removing the few billboards that are still posted. Instead, there should be a greater cost to obtain a license and higher annual fees placed on each billboard. In addition, many businesses have already switched to online platforms for advertising. However, if there were a centralized forum for businesses and organizations to post their advertisements, this might further decrease the material waste used for outdoor advertising and in turn further promote the natural beauty of the island.
Hawaii’s billboard ban is the longest standing restriction on outdoor advertising. After analyzing its intentions, enforcement policies, and impact, it is clear that it has successfully achieved its goal of maintaining the natural state of the land and serves as precedence for other states to follow. Overall, this statute has created a peaceful way to fully admire everything that Hawaii has to offer in a modern world that is constantly flooded with advertisements.
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