Cooper vetoes North Carolina billboard relocation bill

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Legislation to let billboard companies relocate their signs more easily when the land on which they stand is condemned for a highway or other project has been vetoed by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

The measure got final legislative approval earlier this month, after some give-and-take by the billboard industry, local government lobbyists and others. It would require replacement billboards to sit nearby in similarly zoned areas and face restrictions on relocation delays or sign heights.

But Cooper said Thursday that local governments, which would lose some control in billboard matters, should have more say. A provision that had explicitly prohibited a relocated billboard from being converted to automatically changing digital billboards was removed in the Senate.

"Protecting the beauty and environment of North Carolina should be a top priority, but this legislation authorizes cutting down trees and other clearing work along roadways without the consent of nearby communities," Cooper said in his veto message.

The bill passed the House on a 60-54 vote, meaning collecting enough votes for an override may be difficult.

An earlier version had been defeated in the House in 2017 after complaints that it took away too much control of billboards sites from cities and counties. This year's version had been scaled back, according to bill supporters.

The number of billboards has decreased by 1,000 compared to 10 years ago, according to the North Carolina Outdoor Advertising Association. Without enough avenues for relocation, the state will have to pay billboard owners more compensation when they are removed, Association Executive Director TJ Bugbee said.

The measure is "a reasonable, responsible solution for the limited relocation of existing billboards, is not only pro-business and pro-property rights, but also saves millions of dollars for the taxpayers of North Carolina," Bugbee said in a release.

The North Carolina chapter of the Sierra Club, a bill opponent, praised the veto, which "demonstrates that the governor respects local government authority and values the scenic beauty for which North Carolina is famous," president Molly Diggins said.

Thursday's veto marks Cooper's sixth this year. To date, Republicans in charge of the legislature haven't overridden his previous five. While the GOP holds majorities, they are no longer veto-proof as they were during Cooper's first two years in office, when he vetoed 28 bills. The legislature overrode 23 of those.