CONCORD — The state Senate on Thursday gave initial approval to legislation that would allow billboard advertising of alcoholic beverages in New Hampshire, reversing a ban that has been in effect for about a quarter of a century.
The vote was 14-10 to send Senate Bill 329 to the Senate Finance Committee for review. The panel will then send the bill back to the full Senate with a recommendation.
The bill restricts such billboard advertising within 500 feet of a school.
Sen. David Pierce, D-Etna, said the bill “rights a constitutional wrong,” adding that “even commercial speech should be free.” He said the current ban is unconstitutional.
Pierce also said no evidence was presented to the Senate Commerce Committee, which has approved the bill on a 4-1 vote, that the ban on billboard advertising resulted in a decrease in alcohol abuse.
“If we want to reduce alcohol abuse, then the current law should ban advertising of alcohol in any form,” said Pierce. “But we allow it, and prohibiting it on billboards does not pass the constitutional test.”
But Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, said she is not opposed to advertising “in appropriate places,” but as a nutritional adviser in schools, “I have witnessed the devastating effect visual advertising can have on the health of our children. I’m opposed to pictures on our roadways that makes suggestions that may attract youth.”
Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, said the bill does not go far enough in its restrictions. She said “we should at least expand” the ban to churches, playgrounds and youth centers.
Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, backed the bill, citing the large amount of advertising of beer and spirits during the Super Bowl.
He said the state allows alcoholic beverage advertising on television, radio and in newspapers and said it is wrong “to specifically prohibit one form” of advertising.
The bill, he said, “is just trying to find common ground on what’s being done all across America today.”
Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, also supporting the bill, said the liquor commission already advertises on a billboard, “just across the state line in Massachusetts.”
“Why wouldn’t we want them to be able to partake of the same medium of advertising in New Hampshire?” she asked.