Citing free speech concerns, council considers nixing politial sign regulation

The City-Parish Council is considering eliminating a regulation that bans political signs on private property in the city of Lafayette earlier than 90 days before an election.

City-parish government stopped enforcing the prohibition earlier this month when a candidate challenged the time limit as a strike at free speech.

“We discovered some constitutional issues with that particular provision,” City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert said at Tuesday’s council meeting, where a measure was introduced to strip the 90-day time limit and a related regulation limiting the size of political signs in residential areas to 8 square feet.

The tweaked sign law, up for a vote July 15, would leave intact a prohibition of political signs on public property, including medians and the public right-of-way along roads, and the size of signs would be limited to 32 square feet, with the exception of billboards.

The revised sign law also would extend the deadline from 10 to 30 days for candidates to remove their political signs after an election.

The council rejected a suggestion by Hebert to add a new provision allowing only one sign per political issue or candidate on each private lot.

The City-Parish Department of Planning, Zoning and Development sent letters in May to candidates with signs out far ahead of this year’s fall elections, seeking compliance with the local sign law’s 90-day limit.

PZD Director Eleanor Bouy said at the time that the campaign signs seemed to be popping up much earlier than in previous election years.

“We are calling it a very early and interesting political season,” said Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who sponsored the measure to revise the local laws governing political signs.

City-parish officials backed off enforcement after retired prosecutor Keith Stutes, who is challenging incumbent 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson, questioned whether the time limit on campaign signs was an unconstitutional violation of his and his constituent’s First Amendment right to political expression.

Most of the signs around the city are for two of the most active races this year, the contests between Harson and Stutes and among incumbent Lafayette City Marshal Earl “Nickey” Picard and challengers Kip Judice and Brian Pope.

All of those candidates except Judice had signs up when city-parish officials tried to begin enforcing the time limit in May.

City-Parish Chief Development Officer Kevin Blanchard, in an interview earlier this month, lamented the controversy over the time limit on campaign signs and asked candidates to be considerate of efforts to cut down on visual clutter in the city.

“It would be nice for everybody to step back and remember what the purpose of the ordinance was,” he said. “It’s fun to get into the legal minutiae, but there is such a thing as being a good citizen.”