Police now have a better tool to control parking

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Ever seen what appears to be a perfectly healthy person park in a handicapped spot? Watch the driver hop out and run into a store? Does it bother you?

Then you’re pretty typical. It bothers us because handicapped parking is reserved for those who truly do not have the physical ability or stamina to walk great distances.

Last Tuesday, Gov. Baldacci signed a law boosting the penalty for illegally using handicapped parking spaces. Fines are now at least doubled, with a maximum $500 per infraction, an expensive jump from the $100 of the past. That’s a big enough difference to cause non-handicapped people to think about whether parking close to the door is really worth the gamble on a ticket.

By noon on Friday, Auburn Parking Enforcement Officer Roger Perrault had issued three tickets for drivers illegally parked in handicapped spots. Under the new law, which was emergency legislation and went into effect as soon as the governor finished signing his name to it, quickly produced some generous unanticipated revenue for the city of Auburn.

The law doesn’t require that an officer observe the violation personally, but allows for anyone who sees a violation to report it for possible police investigation and assessment of civil fines.

We’re not suggesting that Auburn – or any police department – should go on the hunt for revenue by pumping out parking tickets, but we are supportive of the hefty fine for this particular parking violation because disrespecting the safety and comfort of the handicapped is objectionable.

We’ve heard the complaints before that the Secretary of State issues handicapped plates and placards for just about anyone who asks, but that’s simply not the case.

Handicapped plates are issued to folks who can’t walk 200 feet without stopping to rest, to folks who need to use a brace, cane or other crutch to walk, or who may require portable oxygen to take a decent breath. The handicapped aren’t eager for this designation; they are truly in need.

Police issue tickets for handicapped parking violations in public lots and on public streets. They cannot, unless invited by owners, issue tickets on private property, such as malls and other retail spaces. Since the handicapped are most inconvenienced when spots are illegally filled at stores, we urge store owners to invite police to ticket cars on their property. They can consider it an act of service for their disabled customers.

Public and private sectors can work together to enforce this law, putting the safety of the disabled over the convenience of the healthy who are well able to walk across a parking lot to run an errand.

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