Oregon City Council on Monday will consider increasing the fines against motorists who illegally park in handicapped parking zones.
Oregon Municipal Court Judge Jeff Keller requested increasing the fines to deter habitual offenders, Councilman Clint Wasserman said at a committee of the whole meeting last Monday.
“I spoke with him several times regarding the need to address habitual offenders for parking in handicapped spots,” said Wasserman, who is chairman of the city’s safety committee. Currently, the maximum penalty is $100.
“This ordinance will bring us up to code of the Ohio Revised Code and allow for a stiffer penalty to make sure that these spots are used by the people who need them,” said Wasserman.
The proposed ordinance would allow the fine for first time offenders to climb to $250, and up to $500 for repeat offenders.
The fine is reduced for those who have a handicapped parking permit but failed to display the sticker or tag in their vehicle.
“As long as the offender, prior to sentencing, brings that in as evidence for the court, as a mitigating factor,” said Wasserman. “This is pretty much the standard around the communities, all throughout Ohio, in line with the Ohio Revised Code.”
City Law Director Paul Goldberg said Toledo, Maumee and Sylvania have the same ordinance.
“It sends a message to people that we do consider this serious,” said Goldberg. “I talked to our prosecutor, and he’s really in favor of this.”
Councilman James Seaman said if other communities charge increased fines, “I don’t see any reason why we in Oregon shouldn’t be trying to deter such behavior.”
Wasserman said the increase should have been done years ago.
“The other communities have had these elevated fines in place for quite some time. This would pretty much bring Oregon up to par. To echo Law Director Goldberg’s statements, we wouldn’t bring forward something like this unless this was necessary. They’re getting a high volume of these cases in the court, enough to alert the judge that something needs to be done to send a stricter message.”
Council President Mike Sheehy, who supports the measure, said he recalled when the city implemented the $100 fine years ago. “It seemed like a pretty stiff fine to me. It still does,” he said.
Seaman asked what happens when motorists are unaware they are parking in handicapped zones if snow camouflages the striping on the blacktop.
“The court can always take mitigating circumstances into account,” said Goldberg. “Obviously, if you go somewhere, even if there was a sign, and the sign is gone, or the space is covered up, the judge certainly can take that into evidence as mitigation,” said Goldberg.
Councilman Jerry Peach asked whether Goldberg was certain that the judge would consider mitigating circumstances, since the ordinance states that violators would be fined “not less than $250 or more than $500.” “You’re confident that if there are mitigating circumstances that the judge still has the leeway to recognize that circumstance and is not bound by the `not less than $250.’”
“I’m confident that the judge has that kind of leeway,” said Goldberg. “I’m also confident that the judge actually has enough leeway to find someone not guilty under those circumstances.”
Councilman Mike Seferian said he recalls when the $100 fine was implemented without any leeway.
Former Municipal Court Judge Don Petroff, said Seferian, fined handicapped motorists the minimum $100 for not displaying their permits.
“There was not latitude in that instance to do anything other than fine the $100,” he said. “I wouldn’t have a problem if the fine was set between $100 and $500 that would give the judge latitude in certain circumstances, or possibly even less. I would think it would be hard to send a frail person who just didn’t get the sticker to be fined.”
Wasserman said the proposed ordinance allows for mitigating factors.
“I think there is necessary leeway in this ordinance to allow the judge plenty of flexibility to handle a variety of circumstances that can come up,” said Wasserman.
Council will vote on the measure on Monday.