New state law trumps local ordinances that place time limits on campaign signs

The ACLU of Virginia has warned elected officials in Virginia’s towns, cities and counties not to enforce existing restrictions on privately posted political campaign signs and not to adopt any new regulations restricting such signs.
In a letter sent yesterday to the heads of all 323 local governing bodies in Virginia, the ACLU notes that the 2004 General Assembly passed a law protecting the right of individuals to post campaign signs on their property whenever the wish and for as long as they like. The law took effect on July 1.
Within the last year, the ACLU of Virginia has threatened lawsuits when individuals in Culpeper and Farmville were ordered to remove campaign signs because they were posted too far in advance of an election. Culpeper’s ordinance restricted such signs to 20 days before an election. Farmville limited signs to 30 days prior to Election Day.
“The right to engage in political expression on your own private property is a bedrock principle of a free society,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis, “and that principle is now expressly stated in the Virginia Code.”
“The new state law really does nothing more than codify the First Amendment right to post a sign with a political message on your property whenever you wish and for as long as you like,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “Now, however, when a local official tells someone to take down a campaign sign, the ACLU will not have to explain the Supreme Courts rulings on the subject and then threaten a lawsuit. Instead, we can merely tell them to read the new state law. It will simplify the process for everyone.”
The ACLU does not know how many localities place restrictions on political signs, but is asking each one to check for the existence of such provisions and repeal them.
“Eventually, we need to clean up the local ordinances across the state , but for now the important thing is that political season is upon us, and Virginia residents, without question, can place political signs on their property with impunity,” said Willis.
The new law does not necessarily give property owners carte blanche to post signs anywhere they choose and of any size, as localities may still require the campaign signs to comply with zoning and right-of-way restrictions applicable to temporary nonpolitical signs. Such regulations, however, must be reasonable and cannot include time restrictions.
The legislation passed by the General Assembly was SB 76, sponsored by Senator H. Russell Potts, Jr. A copy of the letter sent to local officials is found at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20040819-New-Campaign-Sign-Law.pdf

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

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