Officials hail new law’s stiffer penalties for abuse of handicapped parking placards

  • A parking meter Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016 in downtown Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 11/28/2017 11:57:18 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill last week that aims to curb abuses of the handicapped placard system in the commonwealth, an issue that is particularly vexing in the city of Northampton.

“HP placard misuse and abuse is an ongoing and not uncommon problem in Northampton,” said Parking Enforcement Administrator Nanci Forrestall, in an email provided to the Gazette by Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz.

Narkewicz said that two people were already cited on handicapped placard issues this week, including one person who allegedly photocopied a placard and then colored it in with crayons for realism.

In 2016, 24 handicapped placards were seized in Northampton. This year, 33 placards have been seized so far. In all cases, the placards were being used to avoid paying for parking, either in regular parking spaces or by parking in handicapped spaces.

This year, 106 tickets were issued for designated handicapped parking space violations. This is down from 225 last year in the city.

The law, which passed both houses of the Legislature without a single no vote, increases the license suspension time from 30 to 60 days on the first offense for wrongfully using or displaying a handicapped plate or placard. Subsequent offenses had suspension times increased from 90 to 120 days.

A new fine of $50 for not displaying a placard in a way that makes the placard number or expiration date clearly visible was also added. The investigative powers of the state Registry of Motor Vehicles were also increased around this issue.

Making a false application for a handicapped plate or placard is now an offense under penalty of perjury.

“It’s an equity issue,” said Narkewicz, on his support for the law, noting that people misusing the placards and plates hurt the disabled people who need them.

He also noted that they deny revenue to the community.

State Rep. John Sciback, D-South Hadley, said he has heard more and more complaints from constituents about handicapped placard fraud.

“This is an important step,” he said of the bill.

Nevertheless, he noted that many people do not have visible disabilities. He also said that people taking up handicapped spaces who do not need them could put people with disabilities at risk for more than inconvenience, putting their health and safety in danger.

“It’s quite a serious matter,” said Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington.

Kulik acknowledged that handicapped placard fraud is not as serious in rural areas, which is what most of his district consists of. However, he noted that people in rural areas still shop and go to medical appointments in places like Northampton, where it becomes more of a problem.

This sentiment was also expressed by South Hadley Town Administrator Mike Sullivan, who estimated that the community only has one or two cases of fraud related to handicapped placards a year, because there are no parking meters in the community.

Kulik also highlighted the bipartisan nature of the bill, and said that virtually every legislator has had a firsthand recounting of this type of abuse.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” he said.

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