School bus ad bill clears another legislative hurdle

Jan 20, 2012

Children waiting at the bus stop might soon be the target of advertising as yellow school buses plastered with ads from dairy queen, websites or even the local plumber pull up to the curb to take them to school. A bill making its way through the legislature would let public schools sell ad spots on the sides of their buses. The idea behind the measure is to provide schools with another avenue for generating revenue, but Regan McCarthy reports some worry about the message those ads might send to children.

Since cars are required to halt when a school bus extends its stop arm to let children board or disembark some say school buses might be a prime spot for advertising to a captive audience-- at least that’s what a bill making its way through the legislature suggests. Senator Bill Montford, a Democrat from Tallahassee is sponsoring Senate Bill 344. Montford says his bill, which would let school boards opt to sell ad spots on their buses, will help schools generate income.

 “Considering the fact that school districts have little control over the rising cost of transportation this bill provides a necessary source of revenue in the challenging economic times.”

Montford says the bill restricts what types of ads can be displayed on the buses.

 “There will be no alcohol or tobacco products, no political messages, no mature or sexual content, content that is false, misleading or deceptive in nature is prohibited. Nor can they promote illegal or anti-social behavior, contain material that is not child and community sensitive or content that is discriminatory.”

But Republican Senator Ronda Storms of Brandon says she’s apprehensive about the content restriction. Storms says she gets why it’s in the bill, but is concerned about it leading to possible legal action. Storms worries schools could get in trouble for being inconsistent in the kinds of ads they allow.

 “There was a supreme court case that said if you object to one something that you said was mature, but you advertise a television show that has that mature content and maybe you’re not watching that show, so you’re a school board member, you know, you don’t know what kind of content is on there. The supreme court said then you cannot forbid the directly sexual innuendo.”

Senator Audrey Gibson, a Democrat from Jacksonville, says a solution might be to allow text ads only.

 “Wouldn’t you accomplish the same thing by maybe, I don’t know, Microsoft…if Microsoft just wanted to put Microsoft on the bus and they paid for that without any pictures?”

Montford says that’s something he’d be willing to consider. But a woman in the audience, Donna Sanford, says the committee needs to stop and think about the potential impact of the bill and allowing any ads at all.

 “If you pass this you’ve also opened our school doors to the ads creeping down the hallways. And they’re jump on those bulletin boards and the lockers and then they’ll be on the toilet seats.”

Montford says advertising is already used as a revenue generator in schools.

 “If you go to about any school, you’ll see advertisements on baseball, football fields. School districts sell advertisements in yearbooks, newspapers, and so on.”

The bill passed through the Senate Transportation committee 8-to-2. Republican Senator Greg Evers, of Crestview says he’s received 61 e-mails in opposition to the measure, but he voted for it anyway. Evers didn’t provide a reason for his vote. Senators Lizbeth Benequisto and Rene Garcia voted against the bill. A similar proposal is moving through the House.