I-Team investigation on disability parking abuse could spark new law
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -
There's a push to make major changes to Tennessee law after a Channel 4 I-Team investigation. Earlier this month, the I-Team exposed what one lawmaker called clear abuses of the disabled parking system at meters in downtown Nashville.
Now lawmakers say they need to revamp the system completely.
State Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory, says his phone started ringing off the hook after our investigation. People from across Middle Tennessee called to say things need to change, and when lawmakers saw what the Channel 4 I-Team's hidden cameras uncovered, they wanted to make major changes to state law.
The I-Team watched for days as drivers with disability placards kept their vehicles parked at downtown Nashville parking meters all day. We only spotted one person walking with a cane, while the majority of drivers we saw on camera had no apparent problems walking to Tennessee Tower and other surrounding buildings.
It's important to point out that many disabilities are not apparent to the naked eye. We don't know whether or not these drivers have a nonvisible disability, like a respiratory issue, for example, because the state says for privacy reasons they can't disclose what a driver's documented disabilities are.
Still, the response to our investigation convinced lawmakers big changes need to be made.
"We don't want this done by mail," Jernigan said.
Right now, state law allows drivers with disability parking placards to renew their placard by mail, and lawmakers say that means the placards can easily be handed off to someone else.
While a doctor's note is required to get a placard in the first place, it's not required to renew one. Jernigan wants that to change.
"You need to see a doctor, and I understand for people with disabilities it's difficult to get down there to maybe see a doctor to get this once a year. It's inconvenient, but that's what you are going to have to do to have a privilege to park in those spaces," said Jernigan.
Even some drivers with disabilities called the Channel 4 I-Team to tell us they often struggle to find a place to park and believe the laws need to change.
"When you are in this position, and you can't get the spot you need, and you just watched somebody get out of a car who is literally jogging with a laptop and a briefcase and a coat - jogging to the elevator - and you can't even jog half that parking spot, you know. Yeah, it kind of lit a fuse with me," said driver Nedra Harper.
If lawmakers have their way, there will be tough consequences for those caught breaking the law.
"We will be able to throw tickets on it. In fact, I wouldn't mind towing somebody, but that's how serious I am about the issue," said Jernigan.
Jernigan and State Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, are co-sponsoring the new legislation, which next heads to a study. That means doctors, advocates for people with disabilities, attorneys and consumers will come together this summer to throw out ideas on how the law should be changed.
Jernigan and Green will then present a new bill next fall that they hope will become law.
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