(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) At yesterday's New York State Senate Transportation Committee meeting, nine pieces of legislation were on the agenda. Three of those bills were sponsored by State Senator Ruben Diaz, a Bronx Democrat who is a clergyman himself. Two of those dealt with distracteddriving. The third, however, aimed to give members of the clergy special license plates.
According to the bill's text: "Clergy who are called to visit hospitals, jails, nursing homes or homebound seniors often find it difficult or impossible to park. In order to perform their pastoral duties they need reasonable access to those places. These plates would provide notification to any law enforcement personnel that the car owner is a member of the clergy. The "Clergy" license plate will not enable the holder to violate any local parking or traffic regulations."
To be sure, State Senators introduce bills all the time in Albany, and this kind of thing can happen so frequently that it barely raises eyebrows when it shows up in the Senate calendar, which is where we found it.
But parking policy shapes urban life. We recently wrote about how the state is continuing to issue parking placards, despite the Cuomo administration's promise to end "business as usual." And today the New York Daily News is reporting that an investigation has found widespread parking placard abuse.
So why would Senator Diaz sponsor legislation that would give clergy special license plates -- especially when he himself is a member of the clergy? (Diaz is the founder and pastor of the Christian Community Neighborhood Church in the Bronx.)
According to its website, The New York City Department of Transportation already offers members of the clergy parking permits, which allow parking near houses of worship, hospitals, and funeral homes.
We reached Senator Diaz to ask him about the bill -- and if he thought introducing it might represent a conflict of interest. "Did it pass?" he asked. When told that the bill failed in committee, he said "there's nothing to talk about -- it didn't pass." When pressed about whether he'd introduce it again, he repeated "there's nothing to talk about now," and then said goodbye.
It turns out that the Transportation Committee didn't support the legislation, which failed by a vote of 12 to six (you can see the list of who voted how here) -- because of a pending US district court decision about the New York State Department of Motor Vehicle's moratorium on distinctive license plates.
You can watch a video of part of yesterday's committee meeting below; the legislation about license plates is dealt with at about a minute in.
Kate Hinds is an Associate Producer for WNYC News. She also reports for WNYC and Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
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