Handicapped zone penalty now $250
Fines for illegally parking in a handicapped space in Kentucky rose to $250 in July, but you might not know it by reviewing court records for the law’s first six months.
According to a report prepared for The Courier-Journal by the Administrative Office of the Courts, there were 206 cases in 25 counties of someone being charged with illegal parking in a handicapped zone in Kentucky between the time the law took effect July 13 and Jan. 31.But in the 16 counties where cases have been decided, only five — Boone, Campbell, Harrison, Henry and Pendleton — averaged a $250 fine.Average fines in the other counties, including Jefferson, where more than half the citations were issued, ranged from $20 to $180.56. And while that may reflect fines waived as part of probation, many counties concede that the $250 fine wasn’t being imposed.
That’s disappointing, say local activists who pushed for the higher fine, hoping it would deter able-bodied people from parking in handicapped spaces. The old fine was $20 to $100. “It’s kind of like no one’s really being punished,” said David Allgood, an advocate with the Center for Accessible Living.
In Jefferson County, only two of the 12 violators who pleaded guilty before a judge by mid-December were ordered to pay the $250 fine, according to district court records.
‘I just missed it’
Among those failing to issue the larger fine was District Judge William Ryan Jr., who on Dec. 1 ordered a violator to pay a $25 fine. “I just missed it,” said Ryan, noting that he isn’t in traffic court often and issued the fine in accordance with previous law. Ryan said, however, that he would begin imposing the full fine.
Other judges and prosecutors also said they failed to notice the change in the law, although an Administrative Office of the Courts spokeswoman said judges are given summaries of all laws passed during each legislative session.
“We sit here with egg on our face,” said First Assistant Fayette County Attorney Jack Miller, adding that a memo would be sent to prosecutors notifying them of the change. “I can guarantee it ain’t gonna happen again,” he said, although he noted that but for a reporter’s telephone call “it would have gone on.”
Bullitt County Attorney Walt Sholar said he had no idea why defendants in at least three cases there were allowed to pay smaller fines, but noted, “I was not personally aware of that change” in the fine.
In Jefferson County, penalties in cases where the defendant went to court but eventually pleaded guilty were as low as $25 and as much as $176.50 — although any defendant who didn’t contest his ticket before a judge routinely paid the full $250.
‘Everybody ought to pay it’
One of those was Steven Eichler, who said he paid $250 after being cited because the lift of his delivery truck was blocking a handicapped spot.
“If I paid it, everybody ought to pay it,” Eichler said of the $250 fine. “I thought that was pretty excessive.”
Jefferson District Judge Janice Martin, who ordered a $25 fine in a November case, agreed it seems unfair that people who don’t contest their citation pay the full amount while those who go to court have paid less. Since questions arose about enforcement, Jefferson County judges have begun issuing the $250 fines, although portions of those fines have been suspended.
An able-bodied person parking in a handicapped spot is “one of the most despicable traffic violations that there” is, said state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, who sponsored the bill that changed the fine.
The bill directs that 90 percent of each fine go to a state program that provides a subsidy that disabled people can use to cover services that help them live independently.
“I’m disappointed that the fines aren’t being enforced,” Marzian said, adding that too many court officials seem unaware of the change in the law. “We will certainly investigate it and let them know this is the law,” she said.
Allgood, who uses a van with a lift, noted that the bill didn’t pass until the last days of the 2004 General Assembly session. “We felt fortunate that we got this bill enacted, and then not to see it really enforced” is disappointing, he said.
Although the number of cases involved is small, the fine needs to be large and enforced to stress the importance of having handicapped parking spaces available for those who need them, said Marcellus Mayes, vice president of the Metro Disability Coalition.
Allgood said advocates for people with disabilities also plan a campaign to emphasize the importance of properly issuing handicapped parking permits and enforcing parking laws. That would include a brochure for police and judges about the need to enforce the law and another for doctors asking them to make sure permits go only to people who truly need them.
“It is (important) to those in the disabled community, and we’re trying to educate everyone in the state,” Allgood said.