By Cindy Landrum  

DECEMBER 30, 2009 11:03 a.m. Comments (1)

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New handicapped parking laws are in effect in South Carolina, including a requirement effective today that new placards contain a photograph of the person to whom it was issued.

Supporters say the law is designed to stop able-bodied people from parking in spots designated for the handicapped.

But some law enforcement officials say it will have minimum effect and could actually make it more difficult to convict violators.

“I think the statute was well-intentioned,” said Ron McKinney, attorney for the City of Greenville. “But it’s one big, fat mess.”

In the city of Greenville, 81 citations for handicapped parking violations were issued during the first eight months of 2009. Seventy-five citations for handicapped parking violations were issued in Spartanburg from Jan. 1 through Dec. 21, 2009, according to Spartanburg Municipal Court records.

The law, which passed in June, stiffens the penalty for using somebody else’s handicapped parking placard, changing its expiration date or parking in a handicapped spot without a handicapped license plate to a fine of up to $1,000 and 30 days in jail.

The increased penalty, up from $100 to $300, automatically throws the case out of magistrate’s and municipal court to Circuit Court, McKinney said.

He said the law effectively takes handicapped parking violations from an offense where law enforcement officers can ticket the vehicle to offenses where the violator must be personally cited.

That means instead of leaving a ticket on the windshield, officers must see the offender.

The law also requires the person to show the officer a physician’s statement saying they are qualified to have a handicapped plate or placard when asked. McKinney said there is no provision to allow judges to drop the charge if the violator can produce the statement later.

“Our court has always taken the position if an 85-year-old lady who has difficulty with mobility inadvertently forgets to put the statement in her car if she shows up for court with proof she qualifies for a sticker, we drop the charges,” McKinney said.

McKinney said he expects city officials to discuss the law with legislators.

Another portion of the law requires placards issued as of today contain the photo of the person to whom the placard is issued. Individuals with a valid disabled parking placard may keep it until it expires or until Dec. 31, 2012.

Once the placard expires, individuals will have to recertify their eligibility with the physicians before they can receive a photo-bearing placard.

Only one photo-bearing card will be issued per person.

Lt. Bill Michels, head of the Spartanburg Department of Public Safety’s traffic division, says he has doubts about how much the photos will help law enforcement nab violators.

“Most departments don’t have the assets to sit and watch for somebody to get in or out of their cars,” he said.

Michels said in the rare event an officer is there when a person gets in or out of a car while it’s parked in a handicapped spot, the photo will help officers make sure the person is legitimately entitled to park there.

Michels said it will take a while to judge whether the new law has any effect.

“I think the intentions are good,” he said. “Whether it helps us or not, it will take time to see.”

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Paul  - This makes it tougher for the handicapped   |2010-01-08 12:39:46
So now I have to get a separate placard for my mother, another for my father,
and a third for my brother, all who ride with me separately at times. Now we
also have to go get additional statements from the doctor, to keep in up to four
vehicles. This is supposed to make life better for the handicapped?
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