Published 7:48 pm, Tuesday, February 13, 2018
After several minutes of discussion, including input from a local candidate’s representative, the Hale County Commissioners Court voted 3-1 to approve banning political signs on county property outside of the 100-foot limitation provided by law during its regularly scheduled Monday morning meeting.
Under Title 6, Chapter 61 of the Texas Election Code, electioneering is prohibited within 100 feet of outside door through which a voter may enter the building in which a polling place is located. Electioneering is defined by the statute to include the posting, use, or distribution of political signs or literature.
According to 61.003 (a-1) The entity that owns or controls a public building being used as a polling place may not, at any time during the voting period, prohibit electioneering on the building’s premises outside of the area described above, but may enact reasonable regulations concerning the time, place, and manner of electioneering.
For the March primary election, early voting begins on Tuesday, Feb. 20, and will occur at the Hale County Courthouse, one of the primary locations sought to be protected by the order along with the Ollie Liner Center.
Based upon the language allowing reasonable regulations, County Judge Bill Coleman proposed an order stating: 1. No political signs may be posted, displayed or placed on any property that is owned or controlled by Hale County, Texas. 2. Persons passing out political literature are permitted to electioneer on property that is owned or controlled by Hale County, Texas during the hours that polls are open, assuming the persons meet other requirements of Texas law.
Coleman said that the language was recommended by James Allison, general counsel for the County Judges & Commissioners Association of Texas.
After Coleman presented the proposed order, Leticia Liscano, treasurer for the campaign of Ruben Liscano for Hale County Sheriff, sought clarification of the proposed new rule. Specifically, Liscano asked about signs placed on vehicles parked on or near county property. This led to some discussion from the commissioners and Hale County Clerk Latrice Kemp about the specific parameters of the rule.
Coleman said that the intent of the rule would be to cover signs being placed in the lawn of the courthouse noting that water and electrical lines are beneath the ground and the use of rebar could damage such lines. Commissioner for Precinct 2 Mario Martinez said that the order reads as to not allow any signs on county property.
Further discussion ensured regarding whether having a sign on a parked vehicle in the street would be considered county property for purposes of the rule. County Attorney Jim Tirey said that he had grave concerns about the language of the proposed law and that such a rule may violate First Amendment protections. He said the county is within its rights to consider the opinion of Allison and that while he didn’t wish to challenge Allison’s opinion he had concerns. He suggested the commissioners might simply limit certain types of signs, such as those using rebar to hold them up.
Martinez suggested passing a resolution allowing smaller wire signs and restricting larger rebar type signs. He said he was concerned that not allowing any signs could be viewed as a violation of citizen’s civil rights.
Kemp said the order could also run afoul of the Texas Secretary of State’s office.
More discussion followed that if passed, the new law could face a court challenge in district court.
Commissioner for Precinct 1 Harold King brought up his own experience campaigning in a previous election. He said he felt campaigning on country property was wrong.
After a brief further discussion, Cantwell made a motion to approve the order as written, limiting all signs on county property. King seconded the motion. Cantwell, King and Coleman voted for the measure while Martinez voted against the matter. Commissioner Precinct 3 Kenny Kernell was not present during the meeting.