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Mass. Senate OK’s crackdown on disabled parking permit scams

disabled parking sign - outdoors - photo

Ever see someone hopping into a car at a disabled parking space, looking like he or she could run a 10K faster than you?

Those people are out there, a 2016 state report found. And now the Legislature is pondering a bill to crack down on them.

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The state Senate voted, 37-0, Thursday to tighten the laws around abuse of disabled parking permits. The legislation will now head to the House of Representatives.

Senator Eileen M. Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat who has championed the bill, said that when you look at the cost of parking today, either at meters or in garages, there’s “certainly an incentive for people to try to skate around” the regulations.

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She said the abuse of the placards not only deprives disabled people from using the spaces reserved for them, it keeps municipalities from collecting parking revenue they would have gotten if able people parked at meters as they should have.

People have never been allowed to use someone else’s placard, but “I think the question is: Are there any teeth to the regulations?” Donoghue said.

Among the provisions of the new bill:

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■ It increases the period of license suspension for wrongful use or display of a disabled parking placard from 30 to 60 days for a first offense and 90 to 120 days for a second offense.

■ It bans obstructing the expiration date or serial number on the placard. Offenders are subject to a $50 fine. There was no fine before.

■ It allows the Registry of Motor Vehicles to require documentation to verify applications for placards and allows the RMV to hold the application until the documentation is provided. The RMV did not explicitly have the authority before.

■ It bans making a false statement on an application for a disabled plate or placard, or a renewal or replacement. Offenders are subject to a $500 fine for the first offense and a $1,000 fine for a subsequent offense. There was no fine before.

The state report in early 2016 found that the improper use of placards may cost the city of Boston millions in parking revenue a year.

Inspector General Glenn A. Cunha’s office in July 2014 launched an investigation of the abuse of the placards, which allow disabled people to park at designated spaces and at parking meters for free. The office said in the 2016 report it discovered “ongoing abuse of placards in every Boston neighborhood it surveilled.”

Cunha’s office watched the Theater District, Copley Square, the Fenway, and parts of the Back Bay over 34 days. Investigators found 77 vehicles appeared to regularly display placards that belonged to someone other than the vehicle owner. In total, 325 vehicles displayed passes at least once that belonged to someone else. State Police cited 23 of the drivers and confiscated their passes.

In one egregious case, a chiropractor fraudulently obtained multiple placards and regularly used social media to post photographs of himself at a ski area, the report said.

“The abuse of handicap placards represents a shameful practice that prevents people with disabilities from accessing much-needed parking close to their destinations. This bill cracks down on offenders and curtails the misuse of placards,” Senate President Stan Rosenberg said in a statement after the bill passed the Senate.

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
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