PHOENIX — A spat over parking spaces is putting some users of electric wheelchairs at odds with other members of the disability community.

A House-passed bill would require that those extra-wide handicapped spaces be reserved for those who have vans. More to the point, HB 2408 would make it illegal for anyone else -- even someone with a valid placard or license plate showing disability -- to park there, subjecting them to a ticket.

But dozens of foes, many who are disabled, signed in against the measure Tuesday when the measure came up for a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

The result was that Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, who chairs the panel, put off a vote for at least a week. And Worsley told Capitol Media Services after the hearing that the measure may fall by the wayside at that point.

The number of spots for the disabled is based on the size of the business.

But Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said within that law the requirement is for only one extra-wide space for every eight handicapped slots. And that, he said, creates problems as anyone who is disabled can use that slot.

“It was brought to me by a Marine veteran,’’ Campbell explained when the measure was heard last month in the House Transportation Committee which he chairs. That Marine, he said, is a double amputee.

“He couldn’t get into the assigned space because it was occupied by a vehicle that had a handicapped placard,’’ he said. “The whole purpose of having van accessibility is defeated because anybody who’s got a placard ... can get into that space.’’

Patricia Linn-Fuentes, who uses canes, said that’s all very nice.

“But the legislation has been formulated in a way that’s going to make life harder for up to 90 percent of the mobility-disabled population -- or more,’’ she told members of the Senate panel on Tuesday. In fact, she said, if any spaces near the entrance to a store should be set aside, it should be the other way around.

First, she said, those people in electric wheelchairs that need ramps or elevators to get them out of a van generally have someone else with them to help.

But even if that’s not the case, Linn-Fuentes said the fact is that they are in a powered chair and quite capable of making their way from some distance. By contrast, she said, individuals who use canes and walkers have to maneuver themselves from the parking spot to the store entrance where they may or may not find motorized carts to use.

And Linn-Fuentes said she learned something else from an acquaintance who had a van in the days before there were no extra-wide accessible parking places.

“He simply moved to where there are two adjacent parking places in the regular parking and you plunk yourself down right in between, right on the line,’’ she said. “And then you’ve got all the room you want.’’

Campbell said the legislation simply acknowledges the fact that the law does require van-accessible spaces.

“It is for a vehicle that’s carrying some kind of motorized transportation for the passenger like a wheelchair,’’ he said.

“But everybody wants to use it,’’ Campbell continued. “It’s got a placard (symbol) and they feel they’re all entitled to use it. And they are right now.’’

Linn-Fuentes told lawmakers she is not trying to start a fight with supporters.

“I’m not discounting what the gentleman who prompted this bill experiences,’’ she said.

“I know that his life is not what it was,’’ Linn-Fuentes continued. “And I’m not trying to make it harder.’’

But she said that accommodating his desire to have a van-accessible space close to the door -- one that others who are disabled cannot use -- will complicate the lives of others who have their own mobility issues.

Even before the measure got to the Senate panel on Tuesday it was already picking up opposition.

“It would create a two-tiered system in the disability community,’’ complained Rep. Pamela Powers Hanley, D-Tucson.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, cited her own experience with her grandfather who, before he died from cancer, was using a walker.

“I don’t think my grandfather should have to walk all the way from the back of the parking lot,’’ she told colleagues.

Campbell said late Tuesday his measure may be dead.

“I didn’t realize that there’d be so much resistance to what we’re trying to do,’’ he said.

He said the only possible way to satisfy everyone would be to require there be more van-accessible spaces. But Campbell said there are costs involved in carving out larger areas and re-striping the spaces.


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