Lafayette council holds off, for now, on political sign issue

The Lafayette City-Parish Council is holding off on a measure that would have removed time limits and size restrictions for political campaign signs.

The delay comes after the city-parish Zoning Commission and a local beautification group had questioned whether the changes would effectively gut restrictions on political signs.

The council on Tuesday was set to vote on lifting a ban on political signs on private property in the city earlier than 90 days before an election and on raising the size limit of signs in residential areas from 8 square feet to 32 square feet.

Both regulations came under scrutiny earlier this year when some candidates challenged regulations on political signs as a strike at free speech.

Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who had proposed the changes to the sign law, pulled the measure at Tuesday’s meeting, citing the need for more research on the legal issues involved and to give the Zoning Commission’s time to explore changes to the sign ordinance as a whole, not just the section dealing with political signs.

But Boudreaux also said he wants legally sound regulations on political signs in place by the end of the year, before the campaign season begins next year for council and city-parish president elections.

“I’m going to put a 90-day timeline on this activity. The reason being that this needs to be concluded by the end of the year,” Boudreaux said.

The Zoning Commission had sent a letter to the council last week asking for more discussion on the issue.

“The amended law leaves our community exposed to increased visual clutter with candidates for political office having no time limitations on when they may place their signs in advance of an election,” the Zoning Commission wrote.

A local beautification group, Lafayette Roadside Pride, had asked the council to delay action pending further legal research on whether a time limit of some sort on political signs could pass constitutional muster, among other concerns.

The city-parish legal department has opined that time limits on political signs are constitutionally suspect, but not all councilmen have complete faith in that opinion.

“I for one don’t see the fear of the time limit or the constitutional issue involved with freedom of speech,” said Councilman Don Bertrand. “No one should be able to campaign for four years, for two years, even for six months.”

Bertrand also pointed out that some candidates are in violation of portions of the sign law that are not being questioned, such as the restriction of signs on public property.

“Right now there are candidates putting signs in rights-of-way and places they are not supposed to,” he said.

City-Parish Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley said the legally questionable portions of the law will not be enforced while the political signs regulations are under review, but the city will act on other violations.

“We are going to enforce the portions of the ordinance that are otherwise enforceable,” he said.

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

City-parish officials backed off enforcement after some candidates questioned whether the time limit on campaign signs is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment’s protection of political expression.

Boudreaux said he proposed the changes to make sure all the legal issues are cleared up before next year’s election cycle and because he felt leaving a muddled law in place was unfair, because some candidates have chosen to abide by it while others have disregarded it.