Senator Witkos: State Must Strengthen Handicapped Parking Law [Simsbury Patch]

April 1, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Simsbury Patch on March 28, 2013

Simsbury Man Has Seen This Federal Law Broken 27 Times

Michael Jennings says police aren’t doing enough to enforce this important law.

By Jeff Brush

Imagine returning to your car after stopping at the store to discover that the drivers of the vehicles parked on either side have left only one foot of space for you to open your car door. That’s exactly the scenario Michael Jennings would offer as a comparably frustrating event to anyone who doesn’t have to park in a designated handicapped parking space.

In the past four years, Jennings has documented 27 instances where non-permitted vehicles were parked in handicapped parking spaces or were parked adjacent to the designated spaces in a manner that didn’t allow Jennings the space he needed to access his wheelchair ramp.

Jennings, a 51-year-old Simsbury man, has been using a wheelchair for the past 12 years. He lost mobility after a snowmobile accident caused a traumatic brain injury. Four years ago, Jennings received his drivers license through the Conn. Department of Motor Vehicles handicapped driving program.

During a public hearing before the senate transportation committee, Jennings testified about his experiences with the lack of enforcement of a federal law that he relies on every day. Edward LaMontagne, chairman of the Simsbury Aging and Disability Commission, a representative from the state Office of Protection and Advocacy For Persons with Dissabilities, and Witkos also testified.

“In all 27 cases, not once have I witnessed police giving a written warning or a ticket,” Jennings said.

Jennings called the police in all 27 cases—at locations in Simsbury, Avon, Canton, and 4 other Conn. towns—and never witnessed police enforcing the law.

Sen. Kevin Witkos (R—8th District) said the current state law does not require police officers to issue a written citation or warning for violating the law. Witkos plans to push for an amendment to the law because the bill he introduced, Senate Bill 105, didn’t make the cut this legislative session.

“I thought this was a really important bill,” Witkos, a former police officer said.

The bill was prompted by Jennings, who contacted Witkos’ office after he was unable to park his van outside his polling location at Latimer Lane School in Simsbury on Election Day. A campaign volunteer parked in a handicapped parking space while placing campaign signs outside the school.

“The only way people will really learn is to get something in writing,” Jennings said. “If nothing happens, they’ll go on thinking it’s okay.”

That’s what Jennings told Witkos when he called his office and it’s what he told the transportation committee when he testified.

“It’s a federal law, and many people don’t think anything of violating it,” Jennings said.

Witkos proposed a bill that would require police to issue written warnings or citations for violating the law. Read the bill here.

“It removes some of the officers’ discretion,” Witkos told Patch.

Witkos said he plans to push for an amendment to the existing bill on the senate floor during this legislative session.

In the meantime, Jennings remains hopeful that a solution will be presented by state lawmakers.

“If nothing is done, people will continue to park in these spaces.”