Campaign Sign Law Tweaked

SNOW HILL – A legal decision eliminating Baltimore County’s time restriction on political campaign signs prompted Worcester County to introduce a bill this week to strike out the local time limit on those campaign signs.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) successfully sued Baltimore County in federal court over the county’s time limit on political campaign signs, saying that the limit restricted free speech, which is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

“They sued Baltimore County and won,” reported Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting, to the County Commissioners on Tuesday.

The ACLU then wrote letters to Maryland counties with similar laws on the books.

“Even if you are not actively enforcing your sign law, the continued retention of a law that unconstitutionally limits speech has a chilling effect upon residents. Accordingly, we urge you to consider repealing the portions of your sign ordinance that offend the Constitution,” wrote ACLU Legal Director Deborah A. Jeon in the June 3 letter.

The county legislation introduced Tuesday morning would allow people to display political campaign signs indefinitely, removing a requirement that the signs be removed several days after an election.

“It’s a simple fix,” said Tudor of the proposed change in Worcester County law.

The new county code, if passed, would contain the phrase: “Political campaign signs shall be permitted in all districts and shall not be restricted as to number or length of time displayed but shall comply with the size and setback provisions applying to real estate and construction signs as specified…except for political campaign signs, all temporary signs shall be removed within ten days after the event.”

Commission President Virgil Shockley asked, “Let’s say you have a Nixon sign from 19-whenever, you can literally put it on your property and leave it up forever?”

Yes, said Tudor. 

Commissioner Judy Boggs asked if the code change would apply to homeowner’s associations in unincorporated communities in Worcester County’s borders, like Ocean Pines.

“If the association wants to try to sue the ACLU they’re more than welcome to. I wouldn’t recommend it,” said Tudor. “It’s protected free speech.”

Shockley is concerned about the blight on the local landscape.

“I tell you what, it’s going to get to looking trashy around here,” Shockley said.