Handicapped parking bill a lawNovember 28, 2017
Handicapped parking bill a lawUPDATED: 11/28/2017 08:00:40 AM EST
BOSTON -- "It's not a problem for you if it's not a problem for you. But if it's a problem for you, it's a big problem."
That's how Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday described what the state's inspector general has found to be widespread abuse of the commonwealth's handicapped parking placards system, as he ceremoniously signed into law a bill criminalizing handicapped parking fraud.
The law was filed by Lowell Sen. Eileen Donoghue, and was sent to Baker's desk on Nov. 15 after unanimously passing both the House and Senate.
"The legislation goes a long way to try and address the abuses, (giving) the tools necessary to the (Registry of Motor Vehicles), including dealing with fraud as fraud," Donoghue, a Democrat, said at the bill signing. "It's a win-win for everybody who really depends on handicapped placards to get in and around the commonwealth."
The law imposes criminal penalties for counterfeiting or stealing a placard; increases the penalties for wrongfully displaying a handicap placard; and outlaws using the placard of a family member who died.
Donoghue she said expects the law will go a long way in raising awareness of the issue.
"It's something I heard about a lot, frankly, from the disability community," Baker said. "It's one of those issues that I was glad that in the final push at the end of the session, it made it through."
He said he was "thrilled" the Legislature chose to take on the issue.
Donoghue filed the bill in January, following a report by Inspector General Glenn Cunha's office that found rampant abuse of the handicapped parking system.
"Disability advocates report that it is difficult to find accessible parking in Boston and other cities and towns throughout the state," stated the report, released in February 2016.
Proponents of the law say it will benefit local communities like Lowell through increased parking revenue and a more protected disability community.
The law "does a number on people who want to abuse or commit fraud for a very good government program for people who are some of our most vulnerable in society," Cunha said at the ceremony. So it's all about accessibility."
He said lacking accessible parking can have a "steamroll" effect on disabled people if they are forced to miss appointments or meetings because others misuse the handicapped spots.
Members of disability community heralded the bill's passage as a victory, including Leo Sarkissian, the executive director of disability advocacy organization The Arc of Massachusetts. He said the law sends a message on the importance of the handicapped spaces.
"We didn't have to do a lot of heavy lifting on this for a very good reason," he said, referencing the support from Baker and the Legislature.
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