Utah state Sen. Mike McKell has filed a bill that would crack down on illegal placement of campaign signs on public property.
The bill, which he intends to introduce in the 2023 legislative session, would impose fines on campaigns if one or more of the signs have to be removed from public property. The fine would be commensurate with the cost of removing the signs.
“Right now campaigns are getting off free if they’ve got a sign in a problematic location, which means the taxpayers are actually paying to remove those signs,” McKell, R-Spanish Fork, said.
Utah law currently prohibits advertising in public areas along state roads without Utah Department of Transportation permission or along county roads without the permission of the county.
McKell said the “boiling point” for him was seeing 4-by-8-foot campaign signs placed in between I-15 and a merge lane in Utah County and said he was concerned for driver safety.
“Putting big campaign signs on merge lanes on I-15 creates a dangerous obstruction. Somebody’s going to get hurt. It’s illegal and shows a lack of judgment. Don’t put our state employees at risk to remove them!” he tweeted.
While his major concern is signs causing roadway hazards and safety issues for employees who have to remove them, McKell said he’s looking into having the bill apply to all public property.
UDOT spokesman John Gleason said it is an issue every campaign season, but said there have been “extreme cases” this year, citing McKell’s tweet.
Gleason said UDOT employees in Utah County have removed large amounts of signs over the last few days due to them being placed in a “very unsafe manner and location.”
With the recent windy weather, Gleason said wind gusts can cause campaign signs to blow into traffic.
“That can be an incredibly unsafe situation for the people that are driving,” he said.
Removing campaign signs can also be a hazardous situation for UDOT workers, Gleason said.
“They’re important messages to share,” Gleason said. “We just want to make sure that the campaigns are doing it safely.”
McKell said he is optimistic that the bill can pass because placing signs in those areas is already illegal — his bill is about enforcing the current law.
Additionally, he believes it’s necessary for campaigns to train their staff and volunteers and make sure they understand the laws on campaign signage. He added that he received some pushback about his tweet from the chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party who stated that it wasn’t illegal.
McKell said the fact the county party chairman didn’t know it was illegal shows that “training is probably an issue.”