Justices refuse to consider reviving disabled placard fee

The Associated Press
Tuesday February 27, 2001

SACRAMENTO — The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal Monday to hear Gov. Gray Davis’ challenge of a ruling overturning a fee for handicapped parking placards is a victory for disabled rights, advocates say. 

“It’s wonderful,” said Ben Rockwell, secretary of Californians for Disability Rights. “I think part of what was at risk is whether the state is able to charge for things that should be rights.” 

The $3-a-year fee has not been collected since the first federal court ruling in 1997. 

Davis last year appealed the 1999 appeals court ruling against the fees, upsetting disabled rights groups who feared his action could threaten many basic rights, such as handicapped access to schools. 

Last June, Davis offered to negotiate a settlement of the lawsuit and drop his appeal, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. 

However, since then, the governor’s office and the groups that filed the original lawsuit have remained deadlocked over lawyers’ fees and monetary damages and his appeal remained alive before the nation’s highest court. 

Disabled people can get a special license plate with the disabled symbol, enabling them to park in special parking spaces at no cost above the normal license fee. 

From 1977 to 1997, disabled people had to pay the fee to get a separate placard that allowed them to park in handicapped spaces when they were in someone else’s car. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld the lower court’s ruling that the placard fee the state violated the ADA. 

The state had argued in court filings that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to prohibit states from charging a fee, which the state maintained was lower than its costs for an extra service. 

A spokeswoman for the governor said Monday that Davis has been pushing for negotiations to settle the suit, but the two sides have yet to discuss the matter. 

“For the last nine months we have had the door open to full negotiations with nothing off the table and have been urging the plaintiffs in this case into settlement talks,” said Davis spokeswoman Hilary McLean. 

Disabled rights lawyer Guy Wallace disagreed. 

“If the court had granted the review and it came out against us, it could set us back 50 years with disabled rights,” Wallace said. 

“You don’t threaten the rights of citizens in your state because you oppose the lawyers’ fees. That’s nonsense. It’s spin control,” he said. 

The Supreme Court action also refused to hear similar cases from North Carolina and Texas. 

The cases are California v. Dare, 99-1417; Brown V. North Carolina, 99-424; and Neinast v. Texas, 00-263.