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Mon, Oct. 21

State hopes to extend time frame for campaign signs

PHOENIX -- Get ready to look at campaign signs longer each election.

And new fights between candidates.

The state Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to allowing candidates to put up their signs starting 86 days before the election. That's nearly twice as long as now permitted.

With the primary now in late August, that means a signs could start sprouting in May.

And HB 2017 also ensures that candidates who win the primary can now keep those signs in place through the November election.

But the lawmakers who depend on those signs also voted to make it a crime to "obscure' someone else's signs, complete with a $750 fine and four months in county jail. It even allows those offending signs to be removed.

Only thing is, no one, including the author of the legislation, could say precisely when a sign violates the law and makes the person who put it up subject to criminal penalties.

There even is a disagreement about who can legally remove a sign that may be blocking another.

Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said that 86-day window ahead of the primary election ensures that candidates can get the message out to those who vote early. He said ballots are mailed out 60 days ahead of each election.

But the more interesting issue is the language about obscuring someone else's ballot. Even Stevens conceded the proposed law is far from clear.

"By what angle?' he asked.

"If you're at a corner and you're driving, it changes as you drive whether there's obstruction or not,' Stevens said.

The goal, he said, is to stop one candidate from putting up a sign directly in front of that of a foe, effectively making that other person's sign useless. But Stevens said the measure now awaiting a final Senate vote is far from clear.

"What if I've got a 4 by 4 (foot) sign and someone's got an 8-inch by 12-inch sign in front of mine,' he said. "Is that an obstruction if you can't see a little corner?'

The senators debating the House-passed measure on Monday had no better luck figuring out what would be a crime.

"We don't know how you define 'obscure',' said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.

"Does that mean you cover up a quarter inch of the corner?' he asked. "Or do you cover up the entire thing?'

Sen. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, conceded he didn't really have an answer. He suggested it might have to be handled on a case-by-case basis "where you'd have to be taking pictures, documenting it.'

But Dial said he isn't terribly concerned that the police will be busy investigating violations, citing offenders and taking down signs.

"Based on my last campaigns, I'd be surprised if there was a rapid response by the police because I've not found the police to really care when you call them to notify them about political signs,' he said. "The campaign may actually be over by the time we saw a response.'

Stevens, however, said that's not what he intends -- or even the way he said the bill is supposed to work.

"My understanding is, if they put something in front of mine, I can pull it out,' he said, without bothering to wait for police.

The spat over campaign signs is more than academic.

During the 2014 Republican primary race for treasurer, Jeff DeWit charged that campaign workers for Hugh Hallman were deliberately placing Hallman's signs in front of his. Hallman issued a denial and gave out a phone number to call if DeWit's campaign has a problem or question about sign placement.

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