Frangas bill would curb illegal handicap parking

By Cindy Brovsky

Rep. Jerry Frangas doesn’t have to be a math genius to know something doesn’t add up when it comes to the state’s laws governing handicap parking spaces.

An estimated 186,000 Coloradans have physical disabilities that make them medically eligible to receive placards to hang on rear view mirrors and park in the spots reserved for disabled motorists. Yet, at least 1.2 million placards are in circulation suggesting abuse.

“The number is excessive,” Frangas, D-Denver, said. “Blocking someone’s access to a building or facility is serious. It is denying someone equal rights.”

Officials suspect the abusers include family members who illegally reapply for the placards in the names of the deceased.

“The City of Denver parking officials have told us it appears many dead people have been attending baseball games at Coors Field and parking in the designated spots,” said Julie Reiskin, executive director of the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, which worked with Frangas on the bill.

The placards are only to be used by the motorists to whom they are issued. However, officials found other abuses include allowing the placards to be borrowed or used by other motorists with no disabilities and altering the dates when the placards expire.

Motorists can get placards by simply filling out an application with the Department of Motor Vehicles and submitting it with a doctor’s signature. Placards are valid from 90 days to three years.

Some law agencies hesitate to confiscate the placards or tow the illegally parked vehicles because of the vagueness of the current law, officials said.

Frangas’ bill would allow police to immediately confiscate any placard being abused, including counterfeits. The bill specifies that it is a misdemeanor to create or use a device that mimics a placard, which carries a $1,000 criminal fine and $500 civil penalty to be paid to the city or county of the offense.

Individual communities now set fines for parking illegally in handicap spots, which range from $25 to $100.

The bill, recommended by the Transportation Legislation Review Committee, would give law enforcement and property owners more authority to tow the vehicles. The bill also would better protect people who report the illegal parkers from retaliation, including business employees who have been discouraged from calling authorities.

“I hear about the abuses from my constituents,” Frangas said. “We want to remove the barriers that are keeping the spaces from being used by people who really need them.”

In addition, communities that don’t provide free handicap parking at meters would have to make sure people in wheelchairs could reach the meters and no other items — such as flower pots or trash cans — would impede them. If they don’t give adequate access to the meters, the vehicle could not be fined or towed.

The reserved parking is not a convenience for disabled motorists but a necessity, Reiskin said.

“Many disabled motorists are heads of households and they don’t have someone to drive them around and up to the front door of a business,” she said.

The bill also would prevent anyone from using the spots for commercial businesses, including food cart vendors who have parked in the spots in downtown Denver.

The law was last amended in 1999 to restrict the time people with placards could park at parking meters. In Denver, officials found that people were using the placards to park all day downtown for free and many of the motorists using the placards were not disabled. There is now a free four-hour limit for disabled motorists to park at meters in Denver.