South Carolina lawmakers could get tough on people who misuse handicap placards for free or convenient parking — but they'll have to get moving soon.
Legislators introduced a bill last year tightening requirements on handicap placards, but it is stalled in the House.
Among other things, the bill would:
--Require a licensed physician to certify that a person's "total and permanent disability substantially impairs his ability to walk."
--Clarify and tighten the types of impairments that make people eligible for the placards.
--Require the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue placards with photo identification cards.
--Make it easier for volunteers trained by law enforcement agencies to issue tickets to parking cheaters.
Introduced by state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, the bill is sitting in a House committee, after the state Senate gave its thumbs-up last year.
Bills that don't pass the House by June 5 are effectively dead for the year.
Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum, chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee, said the session will probably expire before the bill makes it out of his committee.
"I understand there's abuse with handicapped placards, and I imagine we need to do something. There's just no way it's going to make it out this session."
Walker expects lawmakers to try again next year.
A Post and Courier Watchdog investigation revealed widespread abuse of handicap placards, especially around the Medical University of South Carolina and the City Market, where parking is at a premium.
The state's existing law makes it relatively simple for someone to get a handicap placard.
People are eligible if they are "disabled by an impairment in mobility."
The new bill mirrors those in other states that require people using the placards to have an inability to walk more than 100 feet without aggravating an existing medical condition.
People with portable oxygen, severe cardiac conditions, wheelchairs and other significant mobility problems also would be eligible under the new bill's provisions.
Some disabled activists say it's time to get rid of the free parking perk, arguing that it tempts people to misuse placards, and that people with handicaps aren't necessarily poor.
State law currently allows people with handicap placards to park for free at metered spaces and in garages, making the familiar blue hang tags worth some serious money.
The new bill would maintain the free-parking perk.