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ISSUE: --Last weekend, Anne Arundel County began enforcing a new law that calls for a $500 citation for drivers who illegally park in spots reserved for the disabled.

The stiffer fine -- the maximum allowed in Maryland -- is a tenfold increase from the previous $50 penalty.

"Hopefully, what it will do is preserve for the physically challenged in our county their parking spaces and their access to our facilities," said County Executive John R. Leopold.

Does the $500 penalty fit the crime?

Fewer handicapped spaces is frustrating

On many occasions, I have had to return home without doing the shopping because there were no handicapped parking spaces open.

Because I have severe rheumatoid arthritis, my husband has to do numerous daily chores that I once did. But I can still do some of the shopping when we only need a few things. To have to return home without accomplishing my goal is extremely frustrating. It forces my husband to go out again and do something I am capable of -- if I do not have to walk the length of the parking lot first.

On another evening, my husband got my wheelchair out of the car, and me into the chair. But another car parked illegally blocked the entire curb ramp. The business manager and my husband had to lift me onto the sidewalk. This was both uncomfortable and demeaning for me.

I wish the drivers who do not comply with the law had to spend a day or two in my shoes. They probably would not do it again.

Is a $500 fine too much? No! Maybe it will deter illegal use of the spaces, so I would not have to go home empty-handed.

But whether the fine is $50, $500 or $5,000, it does not matter if the police do not enforce the law. How will they respond?

Janet Rittler Glen Burnie

Many with disability tags don't need spots

Many people who have a plate or tag for a disability find the spaces are easier for them, but they do not need these spaces.

People who are so disabled that they need the space are rarely the driver -- there is an able-bodied person with them who can walk the extra distance.

Too many people have these tags, there should be more restrictions on receiving them, and more space should be mandatory for parking in general. I would hate to think of trying to get a wheelchair in and out of a vehicle in a regular parking space.

I should note that I do have a handicap tag and don't always park in a designated handicapped parking space. Nor do I get upset if one is not available.

M. Burgone Severna Park

$500 fine should deter 'me-firsters'

Too many people seem to think that they deserve to have everything just the way they want. This "me-first" attitude extends, for some, to handicapped parking spots.

While $50 is not much of a fine, $500 is a substantial enough amount that will deter all but the most aggressive me-firsters. I applaud the new fine and hope that Anne Arundel County will enforce it faithfully.

Janford Hof Gambrills

New law sends the right message

On July 9, County Executive John R. Leopold signed into law Council Bill 44-07. This law, which became effective on Aug. 23, significantly increases the fine for persons who unlawfully park in spaces designated for persons with disabilities.

As a state legislator and former member of the Governor's Committee for the Employment of Individuals with Disabilities and the National Council on Disability, Leopold has consistently advocated for issues that would improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities. As county executive, Leopold continues to find ways to enhance the lives of persons with disabilities.

As he feels strongly about disability parking abuse, Leopold proposed that the fine be increased and has instructed the Police Department to strictly enforce the new law. The $500 fine that will now be assessed on people who park unlawfully in spaces designated for persons with disabilities fits the crime and clearly sends a message that this administration is not going to tolerate violations of this law.

Pam Jordan

The writer is Anne Arundel County ADA coordinator.

Selfish parkers can fill county coffers

You ask if the $500 fine for illegally parking in a handicap parking spot fits the crime. I think it does.

First, can everyone spell L-A-Z-Y?

People who do this are selfish and lack the compassion (and the morals) for people whose disabilities most likely affect the quality of their life.

Offenders do not appreciate how lucky they are that they don't qualify for a disabled-parking designation.

For the most part, I think chronic offenders are so full of themselves, they will continue to be offenders. So I say, let's fill up those needy county coffers. I believe the rest will continue to park illegally until they get caught once, and then they will stop. So let's get at least the $500 out of them first.

And so there is no ifs, ands or buts about collecting, I suggest that if they scoff about paying in full, then their wages should be garnished with interest added.

Heather Collins Odenton

Commission applauds Leopold

I am writing on behalf of the Anne Arundel County Commission on Disability Issues. The commission's purpose is to promote the interests and enhance the quality of life of persons with disabilities by providing advice on disability issues to the Anne Arundel County Executive and the County Council.

The Commission endorses Council Bill 44-07, increasing to $500 the fine imposed on persons who unlawfully park in spaces reserved for the disabled, or who block access to ramps and curb cuts. The goal of this important law is not to punish offenders, but rather, to ensure necessary access for those members of the community who require it.

These spaces are placed and sized to allow persons using wheelchairs and scooters to lower ramps to discharge these devices, so that the process can take place out of the flow of traffic; the spaces are also important to individuals who are unable to walk for long distances, see their way clearly, or hear traffic.

In short, these spaces are for the safety of persons with disabilities, and are not merely a matter of convenience.

The commission applauds the efforts of Leopold and the County Council. We now look to the police to enforce the law, and to the judiciary to uphold the law. Through these efforts, it is hoped that the deterrent effects of the increased penalty will serve to educate the general population to the importance of preserving disabled parking spots and access points for those who truly need them.

Ginger Palmer

The writer is vice chair of the Anne Arundel County Commission on Disability Issues.

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