Interesting article By Kathryn Marchocki in the New Hampshire Union Leader :
Before proposing any changes aimed at curbing abuse, the head of the state agency that issues handicapped parking plates and placards said he wants to meet with the disabled community to gauge the extent of fraudulent use of parking privileges.
Manchester municipal parking enforcers and members of the Governor’s Commission on Disability have pointed to New Hampshire’s practice of issuing up to two placards or a placard and a license plate to one person, saying it increases the potential for abuse.
According to 2010 figures, New Hampshire issued a total 73.9 placards and plates per 1,000 residents. That compares to 49.7 issued per 1,000 residents of Massachusetts, which restricts qualified drivers to one placard or plate.
“If we can define the problem and that it’s significant enough that would warrant changing the rules, we would certainly have to discuss this with the Legislature. If we can come up with an improvement that … law enforcement could enforce easier … we certainly would want to look at that,” Division of Motor Vehicles Director Richard C. Bailey Jr. said in a recent interview.
“My big fear is I don’t want to implement a solution that is worse than the problem,” he added.
Bailey will hold his first joint parking committee meeting with the Governor’s Commission on Disability on March 16. The quarterly meetings are a forum for the disabled community to air their views, report concerns, and develop policy regarding handicapped parking.
The right balance
Bailey, who became director 11 months ago, said it’s crucial to strike the right balance between imposing restrictions to guard against abuse without making it too difficult for those who legitimately need the plates and placards to access them.
“The statute and the practice has been an attempt to be user-friendly to those who truly need the placards or plates and I think that allows for some potential for abuses,” Bailey said in a telephone interview last week.
The practice of issuing up to two handicapped placards or plate and placard is intended as a convenience for those with more than one vehicle.
“I see no reason why a person would need more than one,” said William H. Godfrey of Merrimack, who has multiple sclerosis and sits on the parking committee.
Many offenders use placards issued to a disabled relative — both living and deceased — to access free and convenient parking at handicapped-only spaces. Offenders also steal, forge, alter or counterfeit placards, Manchester municipal parking enforcers have said.
Godfrey said he would like state law changed so those who steal or alter handicapped placards would face criminal charges.”To me, it’s like counterfeiting or altering a state document. It’s just like possession of stolen property is an offense,” explained Godfrey, a member of the government relations committee of the Greater New England chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Open to abuse?
Out-of-state residents also cannot be denied New Hampshire handicapped parking privileges under state law, Godfrey said.
Former Motor Vehicles Division director Virginia C. Beecher brought the matter to the parking committee’s attention last year after a Massachusetts resident applied for and was issued a placard, Godfrey said.
“She looked at that as a loophole in the law,” Godfrey said. It has yet to be addressed, he added.
Currently, the only bill before state lawmakers regarding handicapped parking privileges is House Bill 134, which would exempt those over 70 years old from having to resubmit proof of eligibility every five years in order to renew their plate or placards. Currently, only veterans certified as permanently and totally disabled as a result of a service-related disability are exempt from this requirement.
Bailey said the bill, now before the Transportation Committee, could create a situation for potential abuse.
“We’re concerned about the open-endedness of anything like that,” Bailey said.
“If grandma got (a handicapped placard) when she was 70 and uses it for 10 years and passes away, but if the issuance is a permanent thing and never expires, that would be a situation open to abuse,” the director explained.