State Politics

Florida lawmakers pass measure letting disabled veterans park for free at airports

A driver waits at a cashier’s booth to leave the Cypress parking garage at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2007.
A driver waits at a cashier’s booth to leave the Cypress parking garage at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2007. mhalper@miamiherald.com

Disabled veterans will be able to park for free at all airports — this time for real — under a measure that passed the Florida Legislature and is now heading to Gov. Rick Scott for his approval.

The bill was inspired by a Sarasota County veteran who was denied free parking at Tampa International Airport last summer, despite a law passed a year earlier that appeared to grant disabled veterans free parking at airports. Veterans were only being given free parking if they had cars that had specialized equipment, such as ramps, lifts or hand or foot controls.

State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said clearly the Legislature needed to clarify the law. Her bill requires airports to give free parking for all vehicles displaying a license plate for disabled veterans, regardless whether they have specialized equipment or not.

Florida has about 41,000 veterans who have a special disabled veteran license plate. Such license plates can only be obtained if drivers can prove they have a 100 percent disability designation by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and can show they were honorably discharged.

State Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, said the bill only allows the free parking if the vehicle is being used by the veteran who was issued the license plate, and the parking is only free for one week.

“It’s just another bill to make Florida the friendliest state in the nation for veterans,” Roberson said after the bill passed 115-0.

The same bill already cleared the Senate last month by a 37-0 vote.

Detert said the legislation was a reaction to complaints from Lou Hockel, who was denied free parking at Tampa International last summer. Hockel is a retired Marine who a couple of times a year flies to visit his grandchildren in Washington state. He said last year he read about the Legislature passing the free parking legislation. But he said when he tried to get the airport to provide it, they said the legislation did not apply to them because they are a “special independent district” that was exempt from the previous law.

Hockel said he thought the airport was going out of its way to deny the free parking, so he called Detert’s office.

“Awesome,” Hockel said when informed that the new bill cleared its last stop in the Legislature.

Tampa International is not waiting for the law to go into place on July 1. It has already changed its policies to allow disabled veterans with the special plates to park for free.

Contact Jeremy Wallace at jwallace@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.

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