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Release date: 6/11/09

*** Press Release ***

San Francisco—Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) today joined the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which oversees all surface transportation in the City, to provide visibility and support for Assembly Bill (AB) 144 (Ma), which will increase penalties for the abuse of disabled parking placards. Disabled parking placards offer those who require them an efficient way to increase their mobility. When these placards are misused, the disabled community is harmed and the local jurisdiction is robbed of vital resources.

“Between 1997 and 2007 there was a 131 percent increase in the number of disabled placards issued in California, and empirical evidence strongly indicates that there has been a significant increase in misuse and fraud as well,” said Assemblywoman Ma. “We must work with the disabled community and local jurisdictions to ensure that enforcement is aggressive and fair.”

“The abuse of disabled placards takes money out of our coffers and undermines the parking needs of people who legitimately use the placards,” said Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., SFMTA Executive Director/CEO. “The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that the limited parking resources in desirable locations are made available for those who truly need the access.”

“A disabled parking placard is a crucial right that allows a person with a disability, often a hidden disability, to increase his or her mobility,” said Susan Mizner, Director of the Mayor’s Office on Disability. “Those with disabilities who use parking placards are not the targets of this legislation. It is important that local jurisdictions work with the state to deter fraudulent behavior.”

AB 144 would amend sections of state law that limit a local jurisdiction’s enforcement options as they relate to disabled placard abuse. AB 144 will increase the penalty for certain placard violations from $100 to a range of not less than $250 and not more than $1,000. The local jurisdiction will determine where the penalty will be set. Additionally, Assemblywoman Ma’s bill allows certain disabled placard parking violations to be subject to the issuance of a parking citation.

When cited as a parking violation, these citations will be subject to a civil rather than criminal penalty and will include the same citation protest process used for all parking violations. By providing this alternative procedure for disabled placard parking violations outside of the criminal court system, a local jurisdiction will be able to provide a faster, more convenient and less intimidating process for paying or protesting these citations.

For more than a decade the SFMTA Enforcement Division has maintained a special parking enforcement unit to seek out and cite instances of abuse of disabled parking privileges. Members of the unit are specially trained in issues associated with disabled parking enforcement, such as understanding that holders of disabled parking privileges may have hidden disabilities.

There were approximately 52,600 permanent disabled placards issued in San Francisco as of February 2009 out of about 2 million total in the state of California.

The increased fines and alternative means of enforcement proposed in AB 144 will be significant deterrents to illegal use of accessible parking spaces and will improve access, mobility and the quality of life for all drivers with disabilities.

Since disabled placards are issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, enforcement is the only direct authority that local jurisdictions can deploy in their effort to curtail abuse of disabled parking privileges. Other municipalities and local organizations from around the state share San Francisco’s belief that disabled parking placard abuse should be recognized as an important area for local enforcement. Seventeen letters of support have been provided to date from organizations and individuals such as Disability Rights California, the League of California Cities and SFMTA Director Bruce Oka.

The bill passed the State Assembly by a vote of 73-3 on May 18 and is now scheduled for the Senate Transportation Committee on June 23.

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