Fees on disabled parking tags get new court review

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:49 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The U.S. Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court Monday to reconsider whether Missouri can charge people with disabilities $2 annually for tags that allow them to park in reserved spaces.

The issue is whether the fee violates a federal law barring discrimination against the disabled by imposing a financial burden on the disabled seeking to park.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis had thrown out the class-action lawsuit by a group of disabled people, ruling that Congress did not have authority to regulate Missouri’s fee because the $2 charge had a minimal impact on interstate commerce.

Justices asked the lower court to review its decision again in light of the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Tennessee v. Lane, which allowed people with disabilities to sue states under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act for allegedly violating their right of access to courts.

St. Louis attorney Fred Switzer, who represents the disabled plaintiffs, said the appeals court denied the plaintiffs any reimbursement for the fees. That will not be reviewed, he said. Rather, the appeals court will consider whether the state can continue to charge for disabled parking tags.

“The ADA is pretty clear there cannot be a charge for providing an accommodation to a disabled individual,” no matter how small that charge may be, Switzer said.

But Attorney General Jay Nixon said the size of the fee should make a difference. He called Missouri’s fee “minimal.”

“A reasonable service fee does not violate the ADA nor does it violate interstate commerce,” Nixon said.

The Supreme Court also requested the lower court take into account last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales v. Raich, which said federal authorities can prosecute medical marijuana users in states that have laws protecting them.

Missouri provides disabled license plates at the same price as standard license plates. But it charges $2 for a portable disabled parking placard that lasts a year and $4 for a disabled hangtag that lasts two years. The fees, which have been charged since Jan. 1, 1992, generated $859,654 for the state during its 2004 fiscal year, according to the Department of Revenue.

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