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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White launches top-to-bottom review of disabled placard abuse : Nov 22, 2011

An ongoing series of reports by:
Chicago Sun-Times By Chris Fusco

A top-to-bottom review of the state’s parking program for people with disabilities will begin in January, in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times investigation that found that more able-bodied people than ever are illegally using disabled-parking placards to park for free in metered spots in Chicago.

Secretary of State Jesse White on Tuesday announced the initiative, which follows Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and state Rep. Karen May (D-Highland Park) each proposing different ideas to stop the problem, which has been on the rise because of escalating parking-meter fees citywide. Emanuel has proposed increased fines for placard scofflaws within Chicago, while May is proposing that the Legislature end free parking in metered spots statewide for all but a select handful of disabled people.

White said the state’s newly created Safe Driver Advisory Council will begin tackling the issue in January. The secretary himself heads the 10-member panel, which also includes state legislators and representatives from traffic-safety groups.

White plans to ask disabled-rights groups, Emanuel’s office, May, judges and prosecutors to testify before the council about ways to improve the program. He personally wants the panel to consider stiffer penalties for people caught using a deceased person’s placard, proposing a $2,500 fine and longer driver’s license suspension.

A host of other issues will be on the table, too, White said, citing an example from the Sun-Times’ “Meter Cheaters” investigation.

“We also find placards that have been manufactured, purchased or bought . . . that are illegal,” White said. “You saw that case in the paper where the lady had Illinois license plates on the car, but she had a New York disability placard. Things like that, we just cannot tolerate.”

Statewide, there are more than 577,000 permanent-disability placards in circulation and tens of thousands more temporary-disability placards, which expire after no more than six months. Another 82,000-plus vehicles statewide have disability license plates.

The Sun-Times found that in Cook County, there is a placard in circulation for one in every 13 passenger vehicles. Because placards are issued to individuals, they easily can be transferred from car to car — a system that is rife for potential abuse given that Illinois law for decades has allowed disabled people to park for free all day at metered spots.

Besides announcing the Safe Driver Advisory Council’s plans, White also announced that the Secretary of State Police will launch their annual crackdown on people who abuse disabled-only parking spots at malls starting on “Black Friday,” traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year.

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