Not an election goes by in Wichita without candidates accusing each other of illegal use of campaign signs because some homeowner plants one in the grassy strip of yard between the sidewalk and the street.
But those arguments may soon be on their way into the history books.
In Topeka, Senate and House negotiators have reached an accord on a provision that would overrule local sign ordinances and open up those unpaved strips of private property to campaign signs.
The provision is included in HB 2183, which would also regulate when signs could go up and strike down local limits on the number of campaign signs people could put on their property.
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The bill also contains provisions for reporting the cost of public funds spent on lobbying by cities, counties, school districts and other government agencies that seek to influence legislation in the Statehouse.
The committee is still working out the final wording of the lobbying provisions, said Rep. Mark Kahrs, R-Wichita, chairman of the House Elections Committee and a member of the conference committee.
The sign provisions are important because the strip between the sidewalk and the street is often the most visible location for a campaign sign, particularly in suburban neighborhoods where back yards back up onto arterial streets.
Often, there’s too little space between a homeowner’s back fence and the sidewalk to set up a yard sign, even a small one.
That leaves the homeowner only one option: putting the sign in the front yard, where it’s off the main drag and far fewer people will see it.
Wichita’s ordinance is based on its ownership of street easements, even if the space between the sidewalk and the street is an open area owned and maintained by the homeowner.
Dale Goter, lobbyist for the city of Wichita, said he thought the provision on streetside sign placement had been removed from the bill. But Kahrs said it remains.
Kahrs said the issue of campaign signs came up because some cities in Johnson County approved ordinances to limit the number of campaign yard signs a property owner could display.
The House and Senate conferees agreed that’s not acceptable. The current language in the bill would take that authority away from cities and counties, allowing property owners to put as many campaign signs in their yards as they want.
The conferees also agreed Tuesday on limitations on when signs can be installed and when they have to come down.
The committee agreed to allow signs to go up 45 days before an election and require that they come down within two days after an election.
Kahrs said that 45 days gives candidates a month before advance voting starts to put up signs. Candidates who survive a primary election would be able to keep their signs up through the general election, he said.
Wichita’s current ordinance appears to be silent on when campaign signs can go up but does specify that they have to be removed within seven days after Election Day.
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.