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Bill Aims At Bawdy Billboards

Sexually suggestive billboards intended to lure customers into topless bars, adult bookstores and other risque businesses are not the sort of images state Sen. Tupac Hunter says he wants his 9-year-old son, or any child, to see on Michigan roads.

"Adults can be adults," the Detroit Democrat says, "but when kids are exposed to this type of indecent material, I think it's important for us to stand up and draw the line."

Hunter introduced a bill, which the state Senate passed last month, that would restrict billboards for sexually oriented businesses to listing the business name and type, location and hours of operation. The bill is being reviewed by the House Transportation Committee. He says he hopes it will become law by year's end.

The bill is the latest salvo in a battle between states and the adult entertainment industry - a battle the states have been losing.

In cases in South Carolina in August and in Kansas in July, laws meant to keep businesses from posting explicit billboards have been overturned by federal courts on First Amendment grounds. A similar law was overturned in Missouri in 2006.

In both cases decided this year, the states chose not to spend the money to fight a legal battle they feel is tilted against them.

"It would be fiscally irresponsible to continue the litigation because there would be very little chance of success," said Ashley Anstaett, spokeswoman for Kansas Attorney General Steve Six.

The issue, according to David Hudson, a scholar at the First Amendment Center in Nashville, is that to restrict free speech in advertising, the state must prove that the law's only purpose is to address "secondary effects" of such ads, such as increased crime and decreased property values.

The argument that those businesses have such side effects has generally been speculative, not proven, he said.

J. Michael Murray, a Cleveland attorney who was part of the team that represented the sexually oriented businesses in the South Carolina and Kansas cases, said those rulings should make other states think twice before adopting billboard laws that would run afoul of the Constitution.

Hunter says his bill is different because it wouldn't prohibit the billboards, but focus on content.

Daniel Weiss, senior analyst for media and sexuality for the Christian organization Focus on the Family, said state and local governments could do more to regulate such businesses by stricter enforcement of obscenity laws and building and health codes.

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