BOSTON — Drivers who abuse access to handicapped parking spots could face steep fines under a bill approved by the Massachusetts House on Wednesday.
The bill — which has already been approved by the state Senate — would slap a fine of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense on anyone who “intentionally makes a false statement in an application” for a handicapped license plate or placard.
Drivers who make it hard to see a placard number or expiration date through their car windshield would face a $50 fine. Backers of the legislation say that concealing the information allows individuals to use placards belonging to someone else, as well as lost, stolen and expired placards.
The bill also would strengthen the authority of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to ask for more medical information about why the driver needs a handicapped plate or placard and to investigate allegations that an individual has falsely obtained a plate or placard.
The House approved the bill by a unanimous vote on Wednesday after a brief debate.
Rep. William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat, said the goal of the bill is to clamp down on abuse that not only makes life more difficult for drivers who truly need access to handicapped parking spaces, but also cuts down on the revenues that cities and towns make from parking meters. Those with the placards are not required to feed parking meters.
“This is not a victimless offense,” Straus said. “No one has a right to use parking places all day by using a placard that by rights does not lawfully belong to them.”
Straus said the bill also tries to ensure that only those who truly need the placards are using them. He said the legislation requires that an application for a handicapped plate or placard or a report of a lost or stolen handicapped plate or placard must be made under the penalties of perjury.
“There are unfortunately some people who — when a family member who lawfully has such a placard passes away — continue to use the placard,” he said.
The bill was spurred in part by a 2016 state inspector general report that found rampant abuse of access to handicapped parking, including placards that were being used to park for free all day at spaces near the driver’s workplace and placards belonging to dead people.
In a study of just four Boston neighborhoods, the report found that 77 vehicles regularly displayed a placard belonging to someone other than the vehicle owner, including relatives, roommates and acquaintances.
In one case an employee of a window-washing company using a placard to park in front of the State Transportation Building near the city’s Theater District each day while he worked at the building — despite the fact that investigators repeatedly saw the driver and passengers walking into the building without any apparent difficulty while also carrying heavy equipment.
The report concluded that if just 10 percent of drivers who regularly park at meters in Boston are misusing placards, that could end up costing the city about $1.8 million in lost revenue each year.