By Sam Jack
Saturday, Sept. 22, marked 45 days until Tuesday, Nov. 6: Election Day.
A state law the Kansas Legislature passed in 2015 says that cities and counties, including Haysville, now have to allow political signs on both private property and unpaved city or county right-of-way.
That is a straightforward enough requirement, but just two weeks after the Kansas law, KSA 25-2711, was signed by Gov. Sam Brownback in June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling that cast doubt on its constitutionality.
The ruling, in “Reed v. Town of Gilbert,” held that municipalities can apply “content-based restrictions” – restrictions based on what a sign says – only in very limited situations.
In a statement, Haysville’s city attorney said the city’s position is that the Supreme Court ruling made the Kansas law unenforceable.
In 2017, in response to the Supreme Court ruling, Haysville passed a comprehensive sign code, which runs 37 pages. Consistent with the ruling, the code makes no reference to campaign or political signs, instead regulating such signs like any other temporary sign.
Temporary signs can be left up for up to 14 days, according to the city code, and the date a temporary sign is posted needs to be displayed.
Steven Crum, a Ward I representative on the Haysville City Council who is also running for re-election to the Kansas House of Representatives, said he thinks 14 days is too short a display period, noting that the first general election ballots will be cast, by mail, in mid-October.
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“I see it as a problem for candidates,” Crum said. “I don’t have any signs out right now, and honestly, I was going to put some out this weekend, but I decided to wait until we get this all figured out.”
Crum said he would welcome an opinion from Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on whether the state law calling for a 45-day window for campaign signs still applies or is no longer in force.
Ward IV city council member Russ Kessler said he wants to resolve the conflicting guidance from the Kansas Legislature and U.S. Supreme Court by changing the city’s sign code so that all temporary signs, including political signs as well as garage sale signs and others, can be displayed for up to 45 days.
Outside of election season, people would rarely take full advantage of the code and display temporary signs for six weeks, Kessler argued.
“Whenever I have a garage sale, I put a sign up maybe the night before. I’m not going to have a garage sale sign 45 days before a garage sale,” he said.
Mayor Bruce Armstrong said he thinks 45 days is too long. “When you start getting the definition of what a temporary sign is, it becomes very broad…when that (sign) can go in the ground for 45 days. I think you have to be very careful about what truly is a temporary sign.”
Crum said that he hopes the city council can come up with a solution that works for campaign signs, works for other temporary signs, complies with federal court precedent and also gives the city the ability to deal with signs that get abandoned or cause clutter.
“Cities can’t afford to have people picking signs up out of somebody’s stream, creek or yard,” he said.
Armstrong said the sign issue will be on the agenda for the city council’s next meeting, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9 at City Hall.