Politics & Government

Kansas House OKs bill easing campaign restrictions

The Kansas House has sent a bill to Gov. Sam Brownback that eases restrictions on placing campaign signs in yard easements. (Oct. 22, 2012)
The Kansas House has sent a bill to Gov. Sam Brownback that eases restrictions on placing campaign signs in yard easements. (Oct. 22, 2012) File photo

If the governor signs off, you’ll soon be able to put campaign yard signs on that grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street at your home.

On a 66-48 vote, the Kansas House sent Gov. Sam Brownback HB 2183.

The bill would override local ordinances in Wichita, Johnson County and elsewhere that ban signs in all street easements.

The bill also would allow legislators to use the public Wi-Fi in the Capitol for their re-election campaign social networking, a practice that is currently banned as an ethics issue but in reality is nearly impossible to police.

Seldom does an election go by without candidates accusing each other of illegal use of signs when supporters encroach on the zone between the sidewalk and curb. Passage of HB 2183 would go toward putting an end to those complaints.

It also overturns local restrictions on the number of signs that can be placed in any given yard.

The vote came during a rare Sunday session while the Senate was across the Rotunda debating tax policy.

The tally was closer than expected, as 63 votes are needed to pass a bill out of the house. HB 2183 cleared the House by only three votes.

Candidates and their supporters have long wanted to be able to put signs in the area between the sidewalk and the curbs in Wichita.

It can give the campaign message much better visibility, particularly in neighborhoods where back yards back up to arterial streets and the fences are so close to the sidewalk that there’s no place to plant a sign.

Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, argued in caucus that banning signs in easements infringes on both free-speech and property rights.

The homeowner retains ownership of the land in an easement and remains responsible for maintaining whatever isn’t paved by the city.

“I have to mow (the easement), but technically, the city can still come and take that sign,” Whitmer said. “That’s still my property, but it’s not my property.”

Opponents argued that allowing signs in the street rights of way usurps local control and could create safety issues.

“Most of the cities and counties have their own regulations,” said Rep. Diana Dierks, R-Salina. “This, to me, is a mandate by the state to the local authorities.”

The provision allowing sitting officeholders to use state-paid Wi-Fi for political activity also drew some opposition.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, said she doesn’t think using any state resource for campaigning is ethical, even one that’s open to the public.

“I know that it’s not fair that anyone who’s running against us would be able to sit in the building using state-funded Wi-Fi to send campaign-related communications,” she said. “But when I took office, I took on that mantle that I don’t want to use taxpayer-funded things (to campaign). It’s just too much of a blurring of the lines. It makes me tremendously uncomfortable.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.