Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Legislature rewriting free parking law for disabled vets to include airports

TALLAHASSEE — Lou Hockel was looking forward to getting a break on his parking.

As a disabled Vietnam veteran, the Sarasota County resident was happy to hear about a bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law in June that would allow people with a state-issued disabled veterans license plate to get free parking at any parking lot run by a county, city or "any agency thereof."

But just to be sure he wouldn't have any hassle when he hit the cashiers booth late at night at Tampa International Airport, Hockel called ahead. He was shocked and upset by the feedback.

"They told me, 'We don't have to honor that,' " said Hockel, a 68-year-old retired Marine who a couple of times a year flies out of Tampa International to visit his grandchildren in Washington state.

Airport authority attorney David Scott Knight told Hockel in an email that while the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority does have the word "county" in its name and is a public agency, the law does not apply to them because they are a special independent district and an airport, thus they are exempt from the law.

"We are not a state agency, county, municipality or any agency thereof and thus we are not subject to the language you cited from Florida Statute 320.084," Knight wrote in an email obtained by the Times/Herald.

Knight said airports have a specified exemption in the current law that allows them to charge drivers with disabled veterans plates for parking unless they have a car that has specialized equipment, such as ramps, lifts or hand or foot controls, which Hockel's does not.

Hockel was outraged. He said Tampa International is being nitpicky to avoid giving a few veterans the free parking that they should be able to get under the law.

"They are not following the spirit of the law," Hockel said.

State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, doesn't think so either. She said was stunned that some airports are looking for ways to avoid giving free parking. She said while the law has an exemption for airports, many are still providing the free parking to disabled veterans as a goodwill gesture.

"We're going to fix that," Detert said.

Detert has had support quickly moving a bill through the Legislature to make clear that "each publicly owned or publicly operated airport must grant free parking to a vehicle displaying a license plate for disabled veterans." The bill has already cleared two committees in the Florida House — including unanimously in the House Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee last Tuesday — and sailed through a Senate committee two weeks earlier.

"We should be able to give them the well-earned privilege of some free parking for what they have sacrificed for us," Detert said.

Janet Zink, a spokeswoman for Tampa International, initially said the airport is simply following the current law like many other airports. But Zink said Monday that the airport is going to change its policy and start offering free parking to disabled veterans anyway. She added that the airport is in full support of Detert's new measure, Senate Bill 222.

Miami International Airport spokesman Greg Chin said his airport has a similar view. He said they too provide free parking only for cars with specialized equipment but likewise support the Detert bill and will provide free parking to people with the disabled veterans plates if the legislation goes through during the 2016 legislative session, which begins in January.

Under the current law, drivers with the license plate are entitled to free parking at any metered space or in any county or municipal lot, unless that lot is being used for, among other things, an event at a convention center, cruise-port terminal or a sports stadium.

Hockel said, ultimately, he had to pay a few extra bucks the last time he went through the airport, but that isn't the point. More than anything, he said he just wants disabled veterans to know they are entitled to free parking privileges for what they have given to their country.

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

Legislature rewriting free parking law for disabled vets to include airports 11/23/15 [Last modified: Monday, November 23, 2015 8:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida education news: Makeup days, accountability, charter schools and more


    MAKEUP DAYS: The Pasco County school district alters the daily schedule of 11 schools to make up teaching time missed because of Hurricane Irma, avoiding the …

    With students back in school after Hurricane Irma, schools across Florida begin scheduling makeup days for missed classroom time.
  2. How visiting a scenic Cuban resort can help save green sea turtles


    The Florida Aquarium has been collaborating with Cuba's National Aquarium since 2015 to help save coral dying throughout Caribbean waters.

    The beaches of Cuba's Cayo Largo are home to a large population of green sea turtle nests. The Florida Aquarium will lead eco-tours of Cayo Largo next year that will help protect the turtles and fund research.  [Avalon Outdoor]
  3. Photo of the Day for September 22, 2017 - Willets taking flight

    Human Interest

    Today's Photo of the Day comes from Dan Cleary of Madeira Beach, FL.

  4. Why a true freshman quarterback doesn't kill FSU's title hopes


    Florida State's James Blackman will make history Saturday when the No. 12 Seminoles host North Carolina State in their first game after Hurricane Irma.

    Florida State quarterback James Blackman warms up before a game against Alabama on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Atlanta. When Florida State's Deandre Francois, Georgia's Jacob Eason and Texas A&M's Nick Starkel all got hurt in their respective season openers, true freshmen ended up taking over the rest of the way.  (Joe Rondone/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)
  5. Puerto Rico could face months without electricity after Hurricane Maria (w/video)


    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The eye of Hurricane Maria was nearing the Turks and Caicos early Friday as Puerto Rico sought to recover from the storm's devastation.

    A pregnant woman carries empty plastic bottles to collect water a day after the impact of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Thursday, September 21, 2017. As of Thursday evening, Maria was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic with winds of 120 mph (195 kph). The storm was expected to approach the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas late Thursday and early Friday. [Associated Press]