State takes close look at disabled parking permits

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - After years of complaints, a state committee began working last month to take a closer look at abuse of disabled parking permits.

The Daily Herald reports the group wants to figure out how widespread the problem is and come up with a strategy for curbing abuse.

They are considering a variety of options - from closer monitoring of physicians who decide who gets a permit to creating a system for others to know whether a permit is valid. The recommendations are due Dec. 1.

The state Department of Licensing was assigned to lead the effort. Other panel members come from the Department of Health, the Governor's Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, The Arc of Washington and the city of Seattle, where improper use is said to be more prevalent than in any other community in the state.

A 2010 city report estimated that on any given day in downtown Seattle, between 30 percent and 40 percent of spaces were filled with vehicles with disabled parking permits, and at least 10 percent of those placards were inactive.

"We have a problem. There is misuse of some disabled parking placards," said Cristina Van Valkenburgh, manager of Seattle's mobility program.

This is an issue of access for people with disabilities because someone with a valid placard could be blocked from reaching their destination by a person with an invalid one, she said. Seattle is looking to the work group for help in ensuring "folks with real disabilities are getting an opportunity to park as needed."

In mid-July, the number of active disabled parking placards was 760,701, according to the Department of Licensing. Of those, 687,005 were permanent placards and 47,596 were license plates, both of which are renewable every five years. The remaining 26,100 were temporary placards, which are good for no more than six months.

By law, a licensed physician must determine whether a person qualifies for a disabled parking permit. The person can be a surgeon, chiropractor, naturopath, podiatrist, advanced registered nurse practitioner or physician's assistant.

There are reasons for issuing a permit, such as the person cannot walk 200 feet without stopping to rest, is severely limited in ability to walk because of an arthritic, neurological or orthopedic condition, or cannot walk without the use of an assistive device.

Once a placard is obtained, it can only be used when the person named in the application is in the vehicle.

Any unauthorized use of the special placard or plate is a parking infraction with a fine of $250. This includes displaying or using one that is stolen, expired, issued to a person who is now deceased or is invalid.

Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, first took on the issue in 2012 after volunteers with the Lacey Police Department told him they had difficulty determining whether placards were valid. They recounted how drivers put them on the car's dash and deliberately covered up the expiration date.

The approved transportation budget contained a provision for Hunt's idea, which did not succeed as a regular bill.

It set up the work group and directed it to "develop a strategic plan for ending any abuse." This group has met three times and is still gathering information.