Good news, candidates for political office.
A new state law says that the town or county can’t treat your sign any differently than a sign put up for any other purpose, whether it’s pointing the way to an ice cream shop, promoting an upcoming concert, or showing off a job done by XYZ Roofing Company.
It also says that a government can’t limit the number or size of signs you put out for a 66-day period around a primary or general election — even if those signs have nothing to do with the election.
The reasoning comes from a Supreme Court ruling from 2015. It involved a church whose signs were limited to a certain size by the Gilbert, Arizona, town government.
The court ruled that sign laws which vary based on the content of the sign are unconstitutional. A community can’t have different rules for political signs, church signs, directional signs or other types if the distinction is based on what the sign says or what its purpose is.
Based on that ruling, the Brown County Planning and Zoning office doesn’t even call signs “political” or otherwise anymore. “Calling something a political or election sign would be regulating according to content,” said Planning Director Chris Ritzmann.
Another new rule is that a community cannot enforce its sign ordinance for a certain period of time during election seasons.
Senate Enrolled Act 348, which became law on July 1, 2017, says that for a 60-day period before and a six-day period after an election, sign rules relating to the number or size of signs are unenforceable. There is an exception for signs that pose a public safety hazard.
That no-enforcement period for the May primary election season is March 9 to May 14. For the November general election season, it’s Sept. 7 to Nov. 12, Ritzmann said.
A community can make differing rules for signs based on where they are placed, such as in a commercial zoning district versus a residential zoning district. That’s what the Brown County Area Plan Commission decided to do last year, rewriting parts of ordinances to remove references to a sign’s content.
The town of Nashville has an ordinance that governs signs on vehicles, like billboard-style signs mounted to a trailer or banners displayed on a truck, Ritzmann said.
“The town ordinance allows truck signs to be placed in a location for four days, so any sign that fits that description may be placed regardless of the time of year,” she said.
The Indiana Election Division’s pamphlet on political signs lists several other rules for political advertising. Among them:
- Signs cannot be placed in a highway right-of way.
- Signs may not be posted or placed on any person’s property, including a highway right-of-way or on utility poles, without the property owner’s permission.
- If political signs or literature are displayed for one candidate or party on a public property, all candidates and parties have the same right to display signs or literature on that public property.
- Removing signs without the authority to do so may be criminal conversion.