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Politics & Government

Sen. McKell doesn’t want to turn a blind eye to campaign signs on gov’t property anymore

Election 2022, Campaign signs on overpasses, Ally Isom & Becky Edwards, June 22, 2022
Kristine Weller
Campaign signs for 2020 Senate candidates on an overpass on I-15. Signs can be seen along most highways and freeways around Salt Lake City.

Even though it’s a common sight on overpasses, highway ramps and even merge lanes, it’s illegal to put campaign signs on government property.

Utah Code 72-7-503 outlaws the placement of advertising in public areas without permission, and permission is never given to political campaigns. Further, according to Utah Code 72-5-708, entities can be charged $500 to $1,500 a day depending on how long an unauthorized sign is left out.

Despite this, signs are rarely removed and campaigns are almost never fined — but a potential bill could change that.

A proposal from state Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, would charge campaigns a fee if their signs are found on government property. He said taxpayer dollars are currently used to remove illegal signs. The bill would instead charge campaigns for the cost.

The idea for the bill came to him while he was driving home from Salt Lake City.

“In between the merge lane and the interstate itself, I saw three 4-by-8 foot signs. That’s extremely dangerous,” McKell said.

As an attorney, he has seen many accidents that happen on merge lanes. That already dangerous situation, he said, is made worse by large, distracting signs.

Dave Hansen, the campaign manager for former Sen. Orrin Hatch, also said campaign signs can be dangerous.

The issue is in the spotlight because a state Senate candidate in Utah County put up a sign by an entrance ramp to I-15. The placement was distracting to drivers coming onto the freeway and he said it could easily have caused an accident.

“Campaigns will push the limits as far as where they can put signs and things like that,” Hansen said, “and as long as nobody’s pushing back on them, they’ll keep doing it. So there has to be the enforcement on it.”

There’s also the question of how effective campaign signs are. They might be able to get a newcomer's name out, Hansen said, but as far as getting votes from people, they don’t seem to do much.

McKell plans to introduce the bill in the 2023 state legislative session.

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