Political sign restrictions may be reduced Baltimore County Council might delete limitations

September 01, 1998|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County officials plan to delete almost all restrictions on political signs, having failed to come up with a compromise that would limit the clutter of campaign signs yet protect free speech.

The only limitation on campaign signs, under a bill to be discussed by the County Council today, would be the requirement that they be taken down within five days after the election. The county would eliminate the prohibition on posting campaign signs more than 30 days preceding an election and limits on the size of the signs.

Officials hope that changing the political sign regulations will forestall a court challenge to the county's entire sign law.

"For the community groups and the business groups, this is an easier way to resolve the problem," said County Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat.

The effort to rewrite the law stemmed from a challenge by Eileen M. Rehrmann's gubernatorial campaign in July, after county officials forced the removal of a campaign sign that was posted in a Catonsville yard more than 30 days before the election.

Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Francis D. Murnaghan Jr. granted an injunction on July 28 against enforcement of the law, saying it probably was unconstitutional, and ordered a hearing.

In the wake of the decision, the county decided to revamp its law, initially seeking to change it in a way that would not distinguish between business signs and political signs and personal messages.

The goal was to regulate signs based upon their construction -- with paper, cardboard and thin plastic signs allowed to stay up for less time than signs made of more sturdy materials.

But real estate agents complained that the revisions would require homeowners selling properties to get permits if they posted "For Sale" signs on properties for longer than six months. And community associations fear that the lack of restrictions on campaign signs would spill over into signs related to home-based business.

Officials yesterday decided to eliminate restrictions, except the time limit for their removal.

County officials conceded that that restriction could prove meaningless if a candidate choses to launch a new campaign immediately after an election.

County spokesman Michael H. Davis said officials hope to review the issue after the election.

Pub Date: 9/01/98

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