Topic:
HANDICAPPED; PARKING FACILITIES;
Location:
PARKING;

OLR Research Report


The Connecticut General Assembly

OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH




July 24, 1996 96-R-0926

TO:

FROM: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst

RE: Handicapped Parking Spaces

You asked what the law requires with respect to providing special parking spaces for drivers with certain disabilities and how this law is enforced. You also wanted to know how many violations of this law occur; whether there have been recent proposals to change the law with respect to its penalties, having offending vehicles towed, and using special enforcement personnel; and any other information we consider relevant to this subject.

SUMMARY

State law gives the State Traffic Commission and local traffic authorities responsibility to establish designated handicapped spaces in any parking areas for 20 or more cars in their respective jurisdictions. Only vehicles that have obtained identification conferring special parking privileges for a qualifying handicapped driver or passenger are allowed to park in these designated spaces.

This law also requires a minimum number of these designated spaces to be set aside in private parking areas for 200 or more cars. The number of spaces required varies with the lot size. Although the state law does not establish minimum requirements for private lots of less than 200, they are subject to the State Building Code which requires designated spaces in all parking lots regardless of size. The building code requirements are actually more stringent than the state law for lots that fall under both.

The handicapped parking law is based on a set of uniform national guidelines that establish standards for the format of vehicle identification (an internal placard or a license plate, or both), the qualifying disabilities for someone to obtain the special parking privileges, the dimensions and location of the designated spaces, and other elements of the law. Connecticut's law was substantially rewritten in 1994 to conform to these guidelines.

The penalty for violating the handicapped parking law is a fine of at least $ 85 and it is designated as an infraction. Court and other fees raise the total due as a result of a conviction to $ 116. Enforcement occurs by action of any police officer, but since many designated areas are in private lots not normally patrolled by police, fully effective enforcement probably requires those in a position to observe violations in these areas to take the initiative to inform police of the violations. Unless someone in a private parking area notifies the police of a violation and the police arrive in time to observe the vehicle, it could be difficult to catch violators.

The law allows a vehicle found illegally parked in a designated space for a third or subsequent time to be towed and impounded until all fines are paid, but the police report that it is sometimes difficult to determine if an offending vehicle has enough prior violations to allow it to be towed. Towing for a first offense may encounter due process challenges. Court decisions have established due process requirements of notice and opportunity to challenge the taking of property in such situations.

There were 523 violations of the handicapped parking law that were processed by the Judicial Department in FY 1994-95 and 306 resulted in convictions.

Several bills are proposed each year relating to various aspects of the handicapped parking law. We have summarized the various proposals going back to 1988. During every session, except for 1991, at least one bill has been proposed to eliminate the fees for identification permits and license plates. These bills have never gone beyond the public hearing stage of the legislative process and in the majority of cases not even that far.

Bills to create special enforcement personnel to enforce the handicapped parking law were introduced in each session, except for 1992 and 1993. The proposal received its most serious consideration in 1990 when an attempt to resolve conflicting House and Senate actions on the bill failed in conference committee. While it has received public hearings since then, the proposal has not come to a vote in either chamber since 1990.

The fine was increased from $ 35 to the current $ 85 minimum in 1988. Fine increases were unsuccessfully proposed in 1993 (to $ 100) and 1996 (to $ 170).

Some other aspects of proposed legislation have included requiring that spaces be kept free from ice, snow, or other obstructions; that spaces be “substantially level”; that handicapped individuals actually exit a vehicle using a designated space in order to avail themselves of the special parking privileges; that municipal vehicles transporting residents to medical appointments be allowed to use the spaces; that spaces be painted blue for easier identification; and that deposits required for temporary permits be reduced or eliminated.

The law was modified in 1995 to allow ambulances to use designated handicapped spaces for up to 15 minutes while treating a patient. In the 1996 session, the legislature created a special task force to study standards and procedures for administering and enforcing the law. The task force is required to report to the Transportation Committee by January 1, 1997.

Information has been included on special handicapped parking enforcement programs in Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, California, and Huntington, New York that our office has inquired about for previous reports on this subject.

HANDICAPPED PARKING LAW (CGS 14-253a)

Minimum Number of Spaces Required

State law requires the State Traffic Commission, on any state highway, and the local traffic authority, on any street or highway under its control, to establish spaces in parking areas for 20 or more cars in which only vehicles with the special identification placards or license plates required by the law are allowed to park. In private parking areas for 200 hundred or more cars, the law requires a minimum number of such spaces as follows:

1. parking lots of 201-1,000 spaces - 1. 0% of spaces

2. parking lots of 1,001-2,000 spaces - 10 plus 0. 8% of spaces over 1,000

3. parking lots of 2,001-3,000 spaces - 18 plus 0. 6% of spaces over 2,000

4. parking lots of 3,001-4,000 spaces - 24 plus 0. 4% of spaces over 3,000

5. parking lots of 4,001 or more spaces - 28 plus 0. 2% of spaces over 4,000

The handicapped parking law does not establish a minimum number of spaces for private parking lots for fewer than 200 vehicles, but the State Building Code does. In fact, the code's requirements extend even to larger lots and generally exceed those of the statute with respect to the set aside requirements. (Conn Agencies Reg. 29-252-1b, Art 512. 3)

Under the code, lots of up to 25 spaces must have one accessible space. For lots of 26-50 spaces, two accessible spaces are required; for lots of 51-75 spaces, three are required; for lots of 76-100 spaces, four are required; for lots of 101-150 spaces, five are required; for lots of 151-200 spaces, six are required; for lots of 201-300 spaces, seven are required; for lots of 301-400 spaces, eight are required; for lots of 401-500 spaces, nine are required. The code requires lots for 501-1,000 vehicles to have a minimum of 2% accessible spaces. (The statute requires only 1% of the total to be accessible spaces. ) The code requirement for lots with more than 1,000 spaces is for a minimum of 20 accessible spaces plus one additional space for each 100 spaces over 1,000. Under the state handicapped parking law, only 11 spaces are required in a 1,100 space parking lot (10 minimum plus 0. 8% of the additional 100 spaces over 1,000).

Other Features of Handicapped Parking Statute

Connecticut's handicapped parking statute was substantially rewritten in 1994 to incorporate uniform national guidelines adopted pursuant to federal law (P. L. 100-641). The areas affected by the revision included (1) the form and format of the internal vehicle identification (switching from a dashboard card to a placard hung from the rear view mirror), (2) the format of the distinctive license plate (the international access symbol must be the same size as the letters or numerals on the plate), (3) the fee for the identification placard (which increased from $ 2 to $ 5), (4) the requirements for verifying a qualifying impairment (the requirement for an applicant to submit a notarized statement of his impairment was removed and other changes made to make it easier to verify an impairment), and (5) the definition of a person with a qualifying disability.

A person can qualify for special parking privileges if he (1) is blind, (2) has disabilities that limit or impair walking ability as defined by federal regulations, or (3) is the parent or guardian of any blind or disabled person under age 18 at the time of application. An organization may be granted these privileges if it meets the Department of Motor Vehicle's criteria and certifies that its vehicle will be used primarily to transport eligible people.

The federal definition of a person with a limited or impaired walking ability includes someone who: (1) cannot walk 200 feet without stopping to rest; (2) cannot walk without assistance from a brace, cane, crutch, prosthetic device, wheelchair, or other assistive device, or from another person; (3) is restricted by lung disease to the extent that his one-second exhaling volume is less that a liter, or arterial oxygen tension is less than 60 mm/hg at rest; (4) uses portable oxygen; (5) has a cardiac condition resulting in functional limitations classified as Class III or IV according to American Heart Association standards, or (6) is certified as severely limited in walking ability by an arthritic, neurological, or orthopedic condition.

Penalties and Other Sanctions

A vehicle cannot use a designated handicapped parking space (and the spaces must meet certain dimensional and identification requirements in the law) unless it has either the special license plate or removable windshield placard required by the law. When a vehicle is not being operated by or carrying the person who qualifies for the special parking privileges, it cannot display the placard and the vehicle cannot use the special parking space.

A violation of any of the provisions of the law is designated as an infraction and the fine must be at least $ 85. Including special fees and assessments the laws require for certain violations, the total costs paid by someone who violates this law are $ 116.

The law also specifies that any vehicle parked in violation of its requirements for a third or subsequent time is subject to being towed and impounded until all fines are paid.

Enforcement and Number of Violations

The handicapped parking law is enforced by police officers like other motor vehicle laws. If a police officer observes a vehicle using a handicapped parking space without the proper placard or license plate he can issue an infraction citation to the vehicle's owner. But since many handicapped parking spaces are in parking lots on private property and thus are not regularly patrolled by police, enforcement can be a problem.

The easiest way to enforce the law is for a police officer to observe the vehicle in violation of the law. But when the violation occurs where police do not routinely patrol, the most likely way in which the law could be enforced would be for someone else to call the police when they observe a vehicle in apparent violation, wait for the police officer to get there, and lodge a complaint. This might be security personnel at a mall or other large complex or a private citizen. The problem with this is that the offender may leave the scene by the time the police officer arrives and a private citizen probably would not want confront the offender himself.

The number of violations of the law in areas not regularly patrolled by police may also hamper the effectiveness of the towing provision, which was added to the law in 1984. Police may have some difficulty in determining immediately if an offending vehicle has two prior violations and thus is subject to towing and impoundment. But towing for a first offense could encounter challenges to due process requirements for towing motor vehicles that have been established by numerous court decisions. These requirements involve providing adequate notice and an opportunity to contest a person's loss of property through such an impoundment. We have attached testimony from a 1995 public hearing on a similar issue (immediate towing of vehicles with expired registrations) which raises the same arguments that would likely be made against first-offense towing for parking in handicapped spaces.

Not many violations of this law wind up in the court system each year compared to other types of motor vehicle violations. According to Greg Pac of the Judicial Department, there were 523 violations of this law that were processed by the Centralized Infraction Bureau in FY 1994-95. Of these, 306 resulted in guilty pleas or convictions and the remainder were nolled, the violators failed to show for hearing, or the offenses were disposed of in other ways. While he could not provide us with statistics from the prior year, he noted that the number of cases for this offense do not change dramatically from year to year.

LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS FOR CHANGING THE LAW

Numerous legislative proposals have been made in the last seven years to change the handicapped parking law including the penalties, who may enforce the law, and whether fees should be charged for the permits, but few of the proposals have generated sufficient support to get very far through the legislative process. These are briefly summarized below by year.

1988

Bills were proposed to increase the fine for violating the law (HB 5048, HB 5049, and HB 5396). HB 5049 was enacted as PA 88-32 and the fine was increased from $ 35 to $ 85 (its current level). The Transportation Committee took no action on another bill, HB 5195, that would have eliminated the fee for applying for the special parking permit.

1989

This appears to be the first year in which the legislature considered creating special authority for individuals other than police officers to enforce the law. Three bills were proposed (HB 5973, SB 206, and SB 634), all dealing with this subject in one way or another. The Transportation Committee drafted and reported out SB 206, but it subsequently died in the Judiciary Committee.

Two bills (HB 5532 and SB 95) dealt with eliminating fees for identification cards and plates. The latter bill received a public hearing by the Transportation Committee pursuant to a petition. SB 894, which would have required that designated handicapped parking spaces be “substantially level” was raised by the Public Safety and reported favorably to the Transportation Committee, but it received no further consideration.

Other bills that were proposed but received no public hearings would have required property owners to designate spaces in areas not generally open to the public (SB 687); required property owners to keep designated spaces, curb cuts, and ramps completely free from accumulations of ice and snow (SB 686); eliminated the requirement for notarized statements by permit applicants (HB 6376), and allowed organizations that regularly transport handicapped people to get the special parking privileges (SB 108). The last two proposals were enacted several years later as part of PA 94-189.

1990

Legislation creating handicapped parking enforcement specialists (SB 252) came close to adoption in 1990, but failed to pass when a conference committee could not reconcile disagreeing actions by the House and Senate. A second bill on handicapped parking enforcement specialists (SB 250) also received a pubic hearing by the Transportation Committee.

Other bills relating to the handicapped parking law included two that would have eliminated the permit and plate fees (HB 5344 and SB 9) on which the Transportation Committee took no action and another that would have required employers to designate spaces in their employee parking lots for handicapped employees (HB 6085) which received a public hearing by the Human Services Committee.

1991

Legislation to create enforcement specialists was introduced again in 1991 (HB 5835 and SB 626), but the Transportation Committee took no action on either bill. SB 628, in addition to allowing municipalities to use trained volunteers or employees with disabilities to enforce the law, would have charged one license point against anyone who illegally parked in a handicapped space.

Other bills would have reduced the deposit for a temporary parking permit from $ 50 to $ 25 (HB 5755), eliminated fees for permits and plates (SB 79), required signs at the spaces to indicate that a violator would be fined (HB 5550), and allowed municipal vehicles used solely to transport residents to medical appointments to use the spaces (SB 89). The Transportation took no action on any of these bills.

1992

Only three bills relating to the law were proposed in 1992. Another attempt to eliminate the permit and plate fees (SB 70) received no action by the Transportation Committee. But the committee held a pubic hearing on two other bills; one of which would have required spaces to be painted blue for purposes of better identification (HB 5527) and the other of which would have required a handicapped person to actually exit the vehicle in order to avail himself of the privilege of using the designated space (SB 325).

1993

A bill to increase the fine for violating the law to $ 100 (HB 5208) was proposed but the Transportation Committee took no action on it. It also took no action on two other bills to allow the deposit for a temporary permit to be waived if it caused undue burden on an applicant (HB 5852) and to reduce the deposit from $ 50 to $ 25 (HB 6235). Another bill to eliminate the permit and plate fees (SB 99) was drafted and heard by the committee pursuant to a petition, but no further action was taken on it.

1994

Legislation to create enforcement specialists was introduced for the first time in three years in 1994. The Transportation Committee held a public hearing on the bill (SB 178) but took no further action on it.

HB 5098 (1) required that designated spaces be kept free of ice, snow, large accumulations of rainwater, or any other obstruction that might prevent their use and (2) eliminated a requirement that each municipal police department annually report to the Transportation Committee the number of citations it issued for handicapped parking violations. The committee had a public hearing on the bill and incorporated the second provision in HB 5097 which was enacted as PA 94-188. (Apparently only three police departments may have ever actually made these reports to the committee. )

The revision of the law to incorporate the uniform national guidelines explained above was part of a multi-topic bill (SB 247) that became PA 94-189.

1995

The bill to authorize the use of handicapped parking enforcement specialists (SB 724) was introduced again but the Transportation Committee took no action on it. Another bill to eliminate the placard and plate fees (SB 587) received a public hearing, but no further action was taken by the committee.

A provision to allow an ambulance transporting a patient to use a designated handicapped space for up to 15 minutes while assisting the patient was incorporated in a multi-topic bill (SB 1041) that was enacted as PA 95-325.

1996

Bills to increase the minimum fine from $ 85 to $ 170 (HB 5249), authorize enforcement specialists (SB 575), and eliminate the fees (SB 42) were introduced. The Transportation Committee held public hearings but took no further action on any of the bills.

The legislature created a special task force to study parking enforcement for people with disabilities (PA 96-245 (37)). The task force must review (1) state standards and procedures for granting special parking privileges and identifying recipients and the vehicles they operate, (2) state standards and procedures for requiring and identifying parking to be designated for them, and (3) state and local enforcement of violations of the law. The task force must make its recommendations to the Transportation Committee by January 1, 1997. It consists of the public safety, transportation, and motor vehicles commissioners, or their designees, two members appointed by the governor, and eight members appointed by legislative leaders.

OTHER INFORMATION

Because the issue of authorizing special enforcement personnel for handicapped parking law enforcement has been a frequent subject of proposed legislation, we have included information on programs in several other states that address this issue. The information is taken from several previous OLR reports on this issue done during the last six years.

Florida

Florida law (Fla. Stat. 316. 640(3)(c)) allows a chartered municipality to employ parking enforcement specialists. These people must complete a special training program established by the Florida Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, but apparently do not have to meet minimum state standards for law enforcement officers.

Several Florida jurisdictions have apparently availed themselves of this authority. Hillsborough County (Tampa) has used parking enforcement specialists since 1985. They are civilian volunteers who are at least age 18, have no criminal record, and provide their own transportation. Their authority is limited to enforcing handicapped parking requirements. The county apparently prefers that they have disabilities themselves, but it does not exclude others. The specialists must complete a 60-hour training program that includes 16 hours of first aid, 10 hours in enforcement techniques, and six hours in regulatory and judicial procedures. Other cities that apparently also have such specialists include Fort Lauderdale, Gainesville, Tallahassee, and St. Petersburg.

Georgia

Georgia law allows municipal and county law enforcement agencies to appoint handicapped citizens who have not been convicted of a felony to enforce their special parking law. The enforcement agents are not compensated and cannot enforce any other laws and apparently are not indemnified by the state, county, or municipality for any harm they sustain while performing their function. (Ga. Code 40-6-227)

Wisconsin

Wisconsin allows villages, cities, and counties to establish disabled parking enforcement assistance councils whose members can report violations of the law to local traffic officers. There is no training requirement for council members but the majority of members must have disabilities. (Wisc. Stat. 349. 145) A traffic officer who receives a report from the council can prepare a traffic citation and serve it to the vehicle owner that allegedly violated the law. (Wisc. Stat. 346. 505)

California

California law allows local authorities to establish special enforcement units for the sole purpose of enforcing the laws, regulations, and ordinances pertaining to off-street parking in designated handicapped parking spaces, whether the facilities are publicly or privately owned. The enforcement personnel may issue parking violation notices, but they are not considered peace officers and cannot make arrests. (Cal. Veh. Code 22507. 9)

The authorities that appoint the enforcement units may provide their employees with (1) two-way radios which may use police frequencies or citizens' band, (2) motorized wheelchairs equipped with rear stoplamps and front headlamps for use while on duty, and (3) distinctive uniforms and badges which the employees must wear on duty.

The appointing authorities may set recruitment and employment guidelines to enable qualified people with disabilities to be employed. They may also pay them hourly wages without the compensatory benefits provided to other public employees. But the enforcement personnel are entitled to applicable workers' compensation benefits conferred by the law. If the appointing authority provides for disability or liability of members of the special enforcement unit it must be the same as that provided for other employees performing similar duties.

Huntington, New York

Huntington, New York has had an enforcement program involving civilian volunteers for several years. A New York Times article featuring the program in this city has been attached for you to consider. Huntington uses volunteers who photograph vehicles that appear to be violating the law and give the photographs to the police department for follow-up enforcement.

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