FRANKFORT — Kentucky risks losing $42 million a year in federal transportation funds if lawmakers approve a billboard deregulation bill aimed at saving a "Hell is real" sign along Interstate 65, according to federal officials.
The state House approved House Bill 536, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, earlier this week, and the proposal has received one of three required readings in the Senate.
The bill would exempt non-commercial billboards — defined as those that don't advertise products or services — that are on private property from the state Transportation Cabinet's permitting process.
Bell has said he is defending a LaRue County billboard declaring "Hell is real," which stands across Interstate 65 from a billboard advertising an adult bookstore in Upton. A judge ruled the "Hell" billboard to be advertising and therefore subject to laws restricting its location and size. Bell said he disagreed with the judge.
However, the Federal Highway Administration sent a warning letter last week to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Under the federal Highway Beautification Act, Kentucky must keep "effective control of outdoor advertisements" or risk, as a penalty, losing some federal money for a half-dozen transportation-related programs, wrote Jose Sepulveda, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration's Kentucky division.
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