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Alaska paperwork law has unintended consequence: parking violation holiday

Posted: April 25, 2013 - 12:09am

JUNEAU — A law standardizing police officer paperwork is leading to an unintended holiday for parking violations in a number of communities across Alaska.

The measure requires law enforcement to personally serve citations. APRN reports versions of the provision had been on the books since the 1980s, but the latest iteration is impacting parking tickets in some communities.

“The Department of Law, the Department of Public Safety, the Legislature were thinking about rules that apply across the state for when a police officer wrote you a citation face to face, and making sure that everybody got treated equally and fairly,” says Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Assembly member.

“They were not thinking about parking tickets.”

Juneau is among the cities that let the courts handle parking ticket appeals. The court system, in an order that took effect April 15, said it will no longer deal with cases where an officer stuck a ticket under someone’s windshield wiper.

“The concern that a whole lot of communities are going to have is that if a police officer or a parking officer — a meter reader — has to write a parking ticket, either they need to wait around for the vehicle owner to come back or cities are going to have to scramble pretty fast here to change their laws and the way parking violations are treated,” Kiehl said.

Robin Koutchak, the city attorney for Sitka, called the situation one of “those bureaucratic nightmare sort of things.”

To continue allowing parking tickets on cars, cities will have to work out appeals through a municipal parking authority or city administrator instead of directing contested tickets to court. Anchorage and Ketchikan have systems like that in place; Fairbanks generally issues civil fines instead of citations.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, carried the bill for the Department of Public Safety. He said his office wasn’t involved in drafting the measure and it didn’t spark any controversy in committee.

Nancy Meade, general counsel for the court system, said notice of the rules change was sent three times to police chiefs, city officials and every attorney in the state.

“It depends on how closely they read the emails, and I just don’t know, but apparently some missed it,” Meade said.

The Alaska Municipal League, which lobbies on behalf of the state’s cities, was notified of how the rule would affect parking tickets a month before the legislative session ended.

Many communities have to decide what to do next. Kenai, for example, is worried about needing to dedicate more staff time to handling appeals.

“We’re in a spot where we may have to raise parking ticket fees to deal with that,” said Scott Bloom, Kenai’s city attorney.

Juneau is drafting an ordinance that would make parking tickets a civil fine, but the city is limited in how it can enforce parking rules until that passes.

“Might some scofflaw take advantage? The possibility is always there,” Kiehl said, “but I think we’ll deal with this as fast as we can, and I’m sure other cities will, too.”

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