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House puts alcohol billboard advertising bill on the rocks

CONCORD — The House does not want to see billboards advertising alcohol along the state’s highways.

The House voted 193-164 Wednesday to kill Senate Bill 329 which would have allowed liquor to be advertised on billboards, something now prohibited under the law.

Bill supporters say it is a free speech issue that does not jive with the state advertising the location of state liquor stores.

“If you want to advertise liquor, beer, wine, cheese, bread or tomatoes you can on TV and radio, magazines and newspapers, but when it come to billboards, it’s against the law,” said Rep. Joel Winters, D-Manchester. “This bill is good for local business, it’s good for people who make billboard and it’s good for civil liberties.”
He asked how those against the bill could argue that private business cannot advertise alcohol.

But those wanting to kill SB 329 said it would allow unregulated advertising of alcohol.

“The most outrageous liquor ads you have ever seen could be coming to a billboard near you,” said Rep. Kermit Williams, D-Wilton.
The courts have said commercial speech is not free speech, he said, and advertising can be regulated.

Williams argued local regulations and the cost of constructing and locating billboards make it almost impossible to put up new ones today.
Allowing the major liquor companies to advertise will mean they will buy the available billboards like they have in other states, he said, and local companies will be shut out.

Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, asked what was wrong with a small New Hampshire brewer putting up a sign to advertise their location. But he noted the Liquor Commission has said those signs cannot have anything to do with alcohol.
He said a Henniker brewer has a logo depicting a bottle of beer, and was told he had to “Photoshop” the bottle out of the logo when it is used in advertising.

“The law is wrong,” Hunt said. “It is time to correct this.”
The Senate took five votes before it finally passed the bill 13-11 in March.

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