Advocates laud parking bill

NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Thursday June 24, 2010

BENNINGTON — Illegally parking in spots reserved for people with disabilities will soon cost offenders a lot more.  Lawmakers joined law enforcement officials and advocates Thursday in hailing passage of Act 82, recently signed into law, which doubles the fine for illegally parking in a disabled spot from $100 to $200. The law and the increase takes effect on July 1.  The Vermont Center for Independent Living, a statewide disability rights organization, advocated for the legislation. Bennington County Sen. Dick Sears, a Democrat, sponsored the bill and helped shepherd it through the  House and Senate. VCIL Vice President Sam Liss credited Sears as the driving force behind the bill’s passage.

‘Constituent-driven’

The “constituent-driven” legislation was “lost with all of the discussion about texting and cell phones” during the legislative session, but an important bill for lawmakers, Sears said.  “I hope that this law will help the situation and I’m really appreciative that both our local, county and state police departments are behind this bill,” Sears said.  Liss said the bill will increase awareness because of the increased fine.  “Most of us never have to think about going shopping, going to a park or going out for entertainment other than the thoughts about having to circle the parking lot hoping for a closer space. But for many of our friends parking is an issue of greater importance,” Liss said. “Act 82 appears to be  about money… but it is about much more. This act is about awareness, about inclusion, about making sure that all  Vermonters can get to where they want and need to go. This fine is like all others, a consequence for ignoring the law.”  The legislation had received widespread support in Bennington County and throughout Vermont from law enforcement.

Vermont State Police Lt. Reginald Trayah, commander of the Shaftsbury barracks, was assigned by the state police to look into the bill. “As soon as it came across my desk, immediately I had a great deal of support for this. This will give us the opportunity to provide more access to individuals who need it, not only in Bennington County but the entire state.”  Meanwhile, Bennington County Sheriff Chad Schmidt said enforcement of parking violations will increase.  “In the past, we haven’t been as vigilant in enforcing these types of offenses,” he said. “I am pledging to you today that the sheriff’s
department will be more vigilant in our efforts and we will enforce these types of offenses.”

Bennington Police Chief Richard Gauthier said his department would enhance enforcement, too. “We will renew our efforts,” he said.  Vermont law requires that parking lots on the premises of public buildings must include at least the same number of parking spaces required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The new state law clarifies that the parking spaces must be marked clearly by visible signs.  Sears said the sign requirements will help clarify which spots are intended for people with disabilities. Sears said he nearly violated the law recently because there was no indication the spot was intended to be for someone with a disability.  “With Senate plates … and after sponsoring this bill, the last thing you want to do is get a ticket for parking in a handicapped spot,” Sears said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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