Bath council delays decision on expanding campaign sign limits

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BATH — The City Council tabled a proposed ordinance amendment Wednesday that would have broadened the amount of time political and campaign signs are allowed on private property.

The current ordinance says political signs cannot be posted on private lots more than six weeks before an election.

The amendment would have barred those signs before the Tuesday after Labor Day for November general elections and more than eight weeks prior to any special election or primary.

Rabyrne Hutton of High Street brought the matter before the council at a recent meeting.

“It seemed to me that six weeks prior to any election was quite arbitrary,” he said. “Normally … campaigning starts in the fall, the day after Labor Day.”

Councilor Kyle Rogers argued that based on reading he has done on the topic, it is not constitutionally valid for a municipality to limit political speech, including campaign signs, on private property. He agreed that such a restriction makes sense on city property.

The city ordinance bans political signs on public property.

Maine state law allows campaign signs on private property at any time, and limits signs on public property to no more than six weeks before and one week after an election. But municipal ordinances advocating stricter control take precedence over the state’s rules.

Rogers proposed striking two out of three subsections of the ordinance, eliminating any time limit for political signs on private property and maintaining the prohibition on city lands.

“It’s my property,” he said. “Unless we’re going to start governing for-sale signs, real estate signs, contractor signs, we shouldn’t be governing political signs.”

Rogers ultimately withdrew his motion to strike those two subsections in favor of tabling the matter for further council review. The vote to table was 7-1, with Councilor David Sinclair opposed.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.