FRANKFORT, Ky. — It’s just before noon at the Kentucky Capitol, and David Allgood can’t get out of his van.
The Louisville man has been a quadriplegic since age 16, when he dove into an above-ground pool and broke his neck. He gets around in a customized Chrysler Town and Country, but he needs a parking space at least 96 inches (240 centimeters) wide to deploy a ramp for his wheelchair. On this day, like many others for Allgood, all of the handicapped spots are taken.
It’s been a problem since 2009, when Kentucky stopped charging a fee for disabled parking placards. In 2008, the state had issued about 32,000 placards. One year later, after abolishing the fee, more than 209,000 placards were issued. And now, the number has risen to nearly 300,000.
“It’s a near impracticality to find a spot,” Allgood said. “With the proliferation of these placards, it’s even more difficult.”
Tuesday, Kentucky’s House of Representatives voted 85-10 to bring back the fees for disabled placards. House bill 81, sponsored by Louisville Rep. Jerry Miller, would let disabled people get one placard for free. But it would cost $10 to get another one. The goal, Miller said, is to reduce the number of placards the state issues.
Since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, lawsuits have popped up across the country challenging fees for disabled parking placards as discriminatory. The courts have split on the issue, with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals striking down California’s fees in 1999 while the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Kentucky, upheld Tennessee fees in 2000.
Kentucky lawmakers got rid of the fee in 2008. But some disabled advocates like Allgood say it has had unintended consequences. He says Kentucky’s massive increase in handicapped parking placards is not the result of an explosion of disabilities, but rather people with real disabilities getting multiple placards for their second cars or family members and friends who sometimes drive them.
It’s just too tempting, Allgood says, for those nondisabled people to then use the placard when they are in a hurry or on a rainy day. When he can’t find a spot, Allgood said he has to park his van so that it takes up two spots, making sure he has room to deploy his ramp. But people often misinterpret his intentions. He’s had his car keyed before from angry drivers thinking he was just trying to avoid dents.
“There is a considerable amount of fraud and abuse in the system, and I hope that this will try and prevent some of that,” said Allgood, who is the advocacy director for the Center for Accessible Living and has been advocating for the bill for five years.
Republican state Rep. Brandon Reed, who has cerebral palsy, voted against the bill. He said he understands the argument for the change, adding he has trouble finding parking spots in the state’s bigger cities like Louisville. But he voted against it because local officials in his district, who issue the placards, oppose it.
“They went from charging to not charging now to be charging again,” Reed said. “Imagine the public coming in. (Local officials) are the front-line workers. They are the ones who get the earful.”
The bill now heads to the Kentucky state Senate, which has approved similar bills in previous years.