Starting Tuesday, harsher consequences await people who illegally use handicapped parking placards in Illinois.|
House Bills 5624 and 5056 were signed into law July 23 by Gov. Pat Quinn. The new legislation increases the penalty, from $500 to $600, for first-time offenders who use handicap parking decals or license plates without having proper authorization. Fines for subsequent offenses increase from $750 to $1,000 and could result in the suspension or revocation of a driver's license, per the second bill, 5056.
Starting Jan. 1, 2014, the new law also eradicates full access to free parking for those with disability decals. Formerly, such drivers could use metered spaces for free.
Under the change, people with disabilities can be issued meter-exempt parking decals only if a doctor deems them physically unable to pay meter or public parking lot fees. Examples include the lack of motor skills in their hands to insert money or reach for a ticket, or the lack of mobility to get to a meter or ticket machine.
Doctors who issue fraudulent disability certificates now face fines of up to $1,000. So, too, do those who knowingly alter or create counterfeit placards -- an infringement that was raised from $500.
State Reps. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, and Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, and state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, were among those who voted for the bill.
Under House Bill 5056, people who illegally use a deceased person's disability parking status face a Class A misdemeanor charge and a fine of at least $2,500, rather than $1,000. They also can lose their driving privileges.
Rep. Verschoore voted for the law; Rep. Morthland voted against it. Sen. Jacobs did not enter a vote.
The new state laws follow a 2006 change that raised the state fine from $100 to $250 for illegally using a handicap parking space. It also allowed municipalities to impose fines up to $350 for the offense, up from the former limit of $200.
In August, local law enforcement representatives said most area residents observe handicap parking laws -- thanks, in part, to the higher local fines in recent years.
In Coal Valley, the number of such violations -- including four in 2010 -- prompted the move to the maximum penalty.
"We reviewed it, saw that it was an issue," Coal Valley Police Chief Mike Poulos said in August. "People were not abiding by the handicapped signs. So we created an ordinance last year and increased the fines to $350."
The harsher penalty, he said, will deter those who didn't take the law seriously.
"We put some teeth in the ordinance," Chief Poulos said. "We believe that those handicap parking spots are established for a reason, and, if a person wishes to park there when they're not entitled to, maybe they can pay the fine or have their car towed."
Coal Valley hasn't issued a ticket for handicapped parking violations in the past two years, the chief said.
"I think we got their attention," Chief Poulos said Thursday. He said even one violation was an infraction the department would take seriously.
Silvis also has seen fewer violations because of the $350 penalty, Milan Police Captain Shawn Johnson said in August.
"I think its from awareness -- people being more cognizance of the requirements -- and just being more considerate," he said.