Ken Santema recounts what's shaping up to be another bad week for traditionalist conservative supporters of property rights and limited government in the South Dakota Legislature.

Rep. Stace Nelson (who has bought groceries for my family with his ad on this blog) introduced House Bill 1232 to prevent the state Department of Transportation from trumping local zoning decisions. Mr. Santema reports HB 1232 was in part a response to HB 1036, the Department of Transportation's proposal to annul local zoning actions taken to create zones primarily for billboards.

HB 1036 appears to target an April 2013 zoning decision in McCook County, where one Ralph Tuschen asked the county commission to rezone a small parcel next to I-90 from agricultural to commercial for sign placement. According to Santema's account of last week's House Transportation Committee hearing, the Department of Transportation frets that if counties let folks put up billboards willy-nilly, South Dakota will lose federal highway funds. Indeed, the Highway Beautification Act says that states that fail to maintain proper control of outdoor advertising can lose 10% of their federal highway funds.

Combine the loss of $38 million dollars (in FY 2014, the Legislature appropriated $380 million in federal funds for transportation) with the chance to beat up on Stace Nelson, and you get a bill that goes nowhere. The full House killed HB 1232 Monday, with only Nelson's band of merry but meager Mugwumps choosing local control over slavery to Washington (at least that's how they'd describe it). HB 1036 passed the House two weeks ago and awaits Senate action.

I do sympathize with Mr. Santema. I chafe at restrictions on signage and other design choices on private property, for Fifth and First Amendment reasons. If a property owner wants to clutter her yard with signs or old tractors or big cut-outs of farmers in bibbers swatting their wives' amply bloomered backsides, who are we to intrude with our aesthetic sensibilities? At the same time, we can't let Midco, Lamar, and Ted Hustead buy out every farmer and rancher from the McNenny Hatchery to Valley Springs and turn I-90 into a continuous walled strip of flashing advertisements. Finding the middle ground between free market, free expression, and scenic views here is tricky.

But the local-state-federal authority question offers no middle ground. If the federal government says states must follow certain rules to get highway funding, the state can't allow local governments to make decisions that imperil that funding. The state either allows counties to make their own zoning decisions on billboards, or the state exerts the control necessary to continue receiving federal funding. The state picks either small government or big government. The Legislature's vote on HB 1232 shows that, contrary to what the majority Republicans will be telling you on the campaign trail this year, they pick big government and federal money over small government and local property rights.

Related Reading: Scenic America says billboards degrade the natural environment, endanger health and safety, and hamper economic development. Ah ha! So that's why South Dakota has trouble competing in business recruitment!

Tangential Reading: A committee of Leadership Madison trainees wants more signs in Madison, to help visitors find our schools.