Illinois' disabled parking law are changing in big ways. .
Governor Pat Quinn recently signed a bill raising the fines for fraudulently parking in a disabled spot to $2,500. But that's not the biggest change to the state's system.
State Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park) says the most impactful change will be in the way the placards are assigned in the first place.
May sponsored legislation that ends the "full parking meter fee exemption." The outgoing law provided that anyone with a handicapped placard -- about 600,000 Illinoisans -- or disability license plate or disabled veterans plates -- another 82,000 -- could park at any space with designated as handicapped.
The new law, which will go into effect in 2014 after a wave of current placards and plates expire, will limit access to metered handicapped spots.
Beginning in January, new applicants for disabled parking will have to submit for a placard under a two-tiered system that takes into account different levels of disability.
The severely disabled are classified as those who have trouble walking more than 20 feet. This group, along individuals who require wheelchairs and parents of disabled children, will retain their eligibility to park at any spot in the state (including, of course, Chicago) for free as long as they have the correct placard displayed in their vehicle.
Some who are classified as less severely disabled -- those who have the ability to get around without the aid of a wheelchair and who can walk further than 20 feet -- will still have access to handicapped parking spots at malls and businesses, but will need to pay for parking in a metered spot .
Amber Smock is the Director of Advocacy for Access Living in Chicago. She says her organization, which focuses on a more inclusive society, has fielded numerous calls from the disabled community, worried about how the new law might affect their lives. She says once she explains it, there is a sense of relief.
"When there's snow," Smock explains, "those who use a wheelchair just can't get around. They will always have free parking. Also, residents with arthritis who have a very difficult time operating a parking meter, those folks will not pay under the new law." In general, Smock says the community supports the changes to the system. "Disability parking is for the disabled," she concluded.
The Secretary of State's office will manufacture two different-looking placards by 2014, and for that first year, enforcement officers will be trained on how to investigate who may be violating the new standard.
Rep. May says she became passionate about moving to this two-tier model after her dermatologist told her many of his patients were asking for placards after being treated for a skin condition (he did not give them out).
The state representative said that her daughter, a college student, told her that she and her friends always rode with a student who had a placard she was given after an asthma treatment.
May was angered, and and that emotion inspired her to draft this bill.
"My bill increased the fines for abuse," she says. "Yet it also makes the system better, taking aim at the cheaters, while protecting those who need free parking the most."
May points out that many other cities are looking at this same model. The state of Michigan has already implemented it.