Cutlines: (campaign signs on a public way in Windham) Cape Elizabeth state Rep. Jane Eberle is sponsoring a bill in the state Legislature that would limit campaign signs to private property. Eberle says banning the signs from public property would spruce up roadsides and reduce pollution.

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Are campaign signs roadside litter or a symbol of free speech? Should the state ban them from public property?

These are two of the questions that likely will be debated this month, when a state legislative committee hears a bill by Rep. Jane Eberle, D-South Portland, to limit the display of so-called political lawn signs to private property.

The Legal and Veteran Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing on Jan. 28 at 1 p.m., at the State House in Augusta to hear testimony on the bill.

Titled “An Act to Allow Political Signs on Private Property Only,” the legislation aims to reduce waste produced by political campaigns and keep roadsides attractive.

“I have been concerned for a while about the environmental impact of disposing of plastic, paper, wire and wood” used for political campaign signs for every seat in the Maine Legislature, Eberle said.

“It is a huge impact on our waste stream. And the signs say nothing about the person who is running or their candidacy.”

The ban would apply to all political elections – local, county, state and federal.

Eberle said that in South Portland many signs end up on the median strip that runs from Broadway to the Casco Bay Bridge. “It seems that if a candidate has 250 signs and no place to put them, they wind up on the bridge.”

By contrast, Eberle said that posting signs on the lawn of a friend or neighbor shows the community that the candidate has that voter’s support.

Co-sponsoring the bill with Eberle are Rep. Bryan Kaenrath, D-South Portland; Rep. Terry Morrison, D-South Portland; Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, and Sen. Larry Bliss, D-South Portland.

“Some of these street corners are a sea of signs,” Kaenrath noted. “They obstruct people’s views. If we could limit the signs to private property – to the people who are our supporters – that would be fine.”

Kaenrath said he sees no harm to civic participation if lawn signs are banned from public property. “I don’t think people really notice them anymore because there are so many. When it gets to be two weeks before election time, you have one sign on top of another. It’s just too much.”

Morrison, serving his first term in office, said he had planned not to use political signs in public places but felt compelled to at the end of his election run because all the other candidates were doing it. He says that type of pressure needs to end.

“This is an environmental issue,” Morrison said. “Over time, political signs have become an eyesore.”

Hinck, an attorney, is researching civil rights issues that might be raised with such a ban. Eberle also plans to talk with the Maine Civil Liberties Union prior to the public hearing to learn if the agency has questions about the bill.

“I never in my whole life have had a political sign influence me one way or another,” she said.

Eberle said the overwhelming response from constituents is support. She said that the voters she has talked with feel that political signs create pollution and are a distraction to drivers.

She said that public works departments object to political lawn signs because their mowers often hit the refuse left behind.

But what sounds like a simple solution may face objections from some lawmakers.

Eberle said one rural lawmaker commented that banning political signs from public ways will make it harder for him to campaign, since residents live miles apart from one another.

Rep. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, argues that regulating political lawn signs should be left to towns and cities, not the state.

“Towns already do a really good job at regulating their signs and sign ordinances, which reflect the will of the people who live there,” Dill said. “The state does not need to get involved.”

She noted Cape Elizabeth’s rules that ban political signs from traffic islands, the town hall and schools. Signs have to be removed within a week after an election.

“It’s important that towns regulate signs, because ultimately they are called on to enforce these laws,” she said.

(campaign signs on a public way in Windham) Cape Elizabeth state Rep. Jane Eberle is sponsoring a bill in the state Legislature that would limit campaign signs to private property. Eberle says banning the signs from public property would spruce up roadsides and reduce pollution.


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