Law requires more proof for disabled tags

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Some say the change will lead to less abuse of handicapped parking.

People with license plates or hang-tags allowing them to use handicapped parking will soon be required to regularly prove their disability.

Beginning Monday, anyone seeking a renewed handicapped plate or tag will need a statement that is less than 90 days old from a doctor or other qualified health-care professional. The change, approved last year by the Missouri Legislature, is designed to cut down on abuse of handicapped parking.

Currently, the diagnosis statement is only required to receive a new disability plate or tag.

The doctor's statement must have a specific diagnosis of disability. Under the new law, age alone is not enough to qualify. And the law imposes tougher penalties on health-care providers who issue a diagnosis outside the scope of their practice.

The changes were applauded by Miki Gudermuth, executive director of the SEMO Alliance for Disability Independence. Too often, she said, doctors will give in to patients' requests to make them eligible for disabled designation.

"There are physicians who will prescribe a plate to people just because they say they want one," Gudermuth said.

Gudermuth, who is disabled because of polio, said there are too few handicapped parking spaces and too many people using them. A person who can walk through a store doesn't need such a parking space, she said.

After a handicapped license plate or hang tag is issued, the new law will require the person who receives it to prove at least once every four years that he or she still needs assistance.

Gudermuth questions whether that is needed for people with a permanent disability, such as a leg deformity or those who need wheelchairs to get around. What would really help, she said, is to make it tougher for people to get a disabled plate or tag in the first place.

But people who really need to use the disabled parking will understand the need for the new law, she said.

"I don't see it as a burden on people," Gudermuth said. "It is the people who use it indiscriminately who are causing problems for the people who really need it."

The law increases penalties for fraudulently obtaining or using handicapped plates or tags. Previously, the maximum penalty for such an offense was up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine. The maximum now will be up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

"It is important that disabled plates and placards are issued to those who truly need them," Missouri Department of Revenue director Trish Vincent said in a news release.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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