COLUMBIA — Some veterans might soon be eligible for free parking downtown.
A new state law gives local authorities discretion to offer the benefit to veterans who've been issued Missouri license plates or hangtags featuring Silver Star, Purple Heart, Prisoner of War, Congressional Medal of Honor or Bronze Star recognition. The City Council asked staff Monday to draft a bill that would allow free parking in Columbia. If passed, free parking would be available in all hourly spaces, whether on-street, in off-street lots or in parking garages.
Commander Ray Hiatt, of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 280, expressed delight when told of the new state statute.
"I support and approve of this wholeheardedly," Hiatt said, adding that the city has needed this "fantastic idea for years."
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe asked that city staff talk with MU authorities to see whether the university might offer the same benefit or at least take action to eliminate any potential confusion about which spaces would be free to veterans.
The Missouri Department of Revenue was closed Friday for Veterans Day, so the Missourian was unable to verify how many veterans possess the eligible plates. In a memo to the council, the Public Works Department said it's reasonable to assume that Columbia has a relatively high number of veteran visitors who might qualify for free parking, citing the city's sizable student population and large regional Veterans Hospital.
According to the report, the potential loss in parking revenue would be partially offset by veterans spending money in town.
Veterans can apply for a specialty license plate through the Missouri Department of Revenue by filling out an application and turning in a statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.