PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland City Council on Monday night approved new $200 fines for people caught misusing expired handicapped parking passes or those of dead relatives in an effort to curb what local parking officials have identified as a frustrating problem.
With a shorthanded 6-0 vote, the council approved an ordinance change that will levy the fines for handicapped placards “tampered with or improperly altered in any way.”
Absent from the meeting were councilors Cheryl Leeman, Nicholas Mavodones and John Anton.
Councilor Ed Suslovic said the ordinance alteration earned the unanimous support of the council’s Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee, which he chairs.
“There is currently an abuse of the handicapped parking placards that hang from the mirrors in cards, particularly ones that have been given temporarily by medical professionals,” Suslovic told his fellow councilors during Monday night’s meeting. “People are changing the dates.”
In a memo written to the council earlier in the fall by Trish McAllister, the city’s neighborhood prosecutor, the doctoring of handicapped tags is “a fairly common problem” observed by parking enforcement officials.
“Basically, what people are doing is changing the expiration date to make it look like an expired tag is still good. They even report cases where people take a dead relative’s hang tag and use it for years,” she wrote, in part. “The fact that there is no ordinance violation to enforce is a source of frustration to the parking officers, who can clearly see the deception, and also the public at large, especially those who rightfully use disabled tags.”
McAllister, a city attorney who works closely with the police department, told the council a police officer could issue a summons to an individual for doctoring a handicapped tag under state law. But she said representatives of the parking division are more likely to discover the violations, and a police officer would need to wait for the driver to return in order to issue the citation.
The need for a police officer to personally hand tickets to the offending drivers creates a logistical problem that makes enforcement of the state law “almost impossible” without empowering the parking enforcement officials, Suslovic said Monday.
With the ordinance change, parking enforcement officials will be able to leave tickets on the offending vehicles’ windshields like they do for other parking offenses.