Attorneys for League of Kansas Municipalities spoke to Kansas legislators Wednesday about the confusion created by a 2015 law banning proliferation of political signs.
Cities and counties in Kansas are asking the Legislature to repeal a 2015 law banning local regulations on political signs in public rights of way.
They say the law has led to confusion, safety problem and a proliferation of signage in the 45-day period leading up to elections.
Further complicating the issue is case law that suggests all types of signs should be allowed all the time in unlimited numbers.
Amanda Stanley, attorney for League of Kansas Municipalities, and Jay Hall, attorney for Kansas Association of Counties, pleaded with the House Local Government Committee to provide for local control.
Stanley said people are livid with city leaders and nobody knows what the law means. There are questions about whether people can stick signs in the front yard of somebody else’s home, or in parks and medians.
She raised concerns about the possibility of being forced to allow Westboro Baptist Church or adult entertainment signs to be placed throughout the city.
House Bill 2135 would remove the 2015 law from statute.
“This bill wasn’t brought because local city officials are anti-First Amendment,” Stanley said. “It wasn’t brought because they don’t appreciate free speech. It was brought because they don’t have the luxury of only caring about political signs. They have to weigh the good of their constituents and what their constituents desire.”
She said a model ordinance drafted by national experts on the issue could resolve concerns and allow for flexibility at the local level.
Hall addressed safety concerns about where signs are placed.
A highway with 70 mph traffic might need different rules than a city street in a busy retail area or a quiet country road.
“It just depends on where you’re at, and the regulations need to reflect that, and the best way to do that is local control,” Hall said.
Former Rep. Keith Esau, a candidate last year for the GOP nomination for secretary of state, opposed the repeal. He said the law is too vague, but it is important to protect freedom of speech.
“Signs are always meant to distract,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a good sign if it didn’t distract.”
Some people put signs where they shouldn’t, he said, but cities have been too aggressive in removing them.
“We’ve had bad actors on both sides,” Esau said.