Rep. Mac Toole said the amount spent on the signs may be small, but it's wasteful. The West Columbia Republican wanted to limit public funding to signs honoring law enforcement and military officers killed in the line of duty.
He said private donations should be raised for markers honoring anyone else.
The House defeated his proposal 59-54 Tuesday.
Democratic Rep. Bill Clyburn of Aiken argued that the signs inspire motorists and motivate them to find out more about the person on the sign.
The Transportation Department has installed 52 sets of signs in the past two years. Local governments reimburse the state $500 for each pair.