NEWARK, NJ - City council on Wednesday approved changes to how reserved handicap-accessible parking spaces are assigned, but kept renewal and application fees the same.

The ordinance introduced in October would have raised renewal fees for handicap parking spaces from $25 to $100 and application fees from $50 to $250. The increased application fee would have covered the costs of a city physician who would examine applicants for parking spaces, a system that was previously not in place.

The ordinance that was approved this week does not increase any fees, nor does it require a resident to get approval from a city physician. Instead, a disabled resident's application must now include notarized forms from two different physicians that include the person's medical history and status.

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The two physicians may not be from the same medical practice, and both forms need to indicate that they agree the resident’s application should be approved. Annual renewal applications must be accompanied by new notarized physicians forms too.

All applications are contingent upon the approval of city council through a resolution as well. Other cities, like Elizabeth, do the same.

North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos and East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador both sponsored the changes. Ramos said after the vote the changes were needed to prevent people who aren’t disabled from abusing the system.

“We've all been witness and have been able to see first hand in many of our wards some of the abuses that happen,” Ramos said. “This basically creates some additional checks and balances in the system, but at the same time maintains the fee at the level it has been in the past. So it's not an excessive licensing fee, but it does add some verification of the medical condition in order for us to process the request for handicap parking.”

There were about 4,000 permitted handicap-accessible parking spaces in Newark and 275 of them were issued in 2017, according to the city's Division of Traffic and Signals. Neither the division nor a city spokesman responded to inquiries about the latest numbers for 2018.

Residents must first have a special identification card from the state Motor Vehicle Commission before they can apply for a reserved handicap-accessible parking spot in Newark. The applicant previously had to provide a form from just one personal physician that proved their medical history and status.

Donna Thomas, a 57-year-old lifelong resident of Newark, was a bit confused about the city's new changes since she said the MVC only asked for one doctor's approval for a placard. She was interested in eventually getting a reserved handicapped parking space near her home since she uses a cane because of arthritis that affects her legs. 

"No I’m not" okay with the changes, she said. "They’re always changing something. They’re always changing at the wrong time. They should work on this crime going on instead of worry about handicapped (parking)." 

Thomas will be able to go see a second doctor at a different practice, although right now she sees all her doctors and specialists in one building. She said the only abuses she's seen when it comes to parking are people who are not disabled parking incorrectly, making it difficult for people who are handicapped to find a spot by their homes. 

Disability advocates previously raised concerns about the first draft of the ordinance when TAPinto Newark inquired about it. Although no one raised concerns at a council meeting, some disability advocates that were reached by TAPinto Newark said the increased fees could possibly be discriminatory.

Jersey City, which is second in population only to Newark, does not charge an application fee for handicap-accessible parking spaces. Applicants there are examined by Jersey City's own physician, the clerk of that municipality previously said.

The changes to handicapped parking were repeatedly deferred for months since the two councilmen who were sponsoring the ordinance wanted to consult with the city's Department of Health and Community Wellness first.

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