City to consider one-time amnesty program for frequent parking offenders; after that may come the parking boot

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence is pictured from Seventh Street looking south on Jan. 5, 2023.

In the category of carrots, people who have racked up a lot of parking tickets in downtown Lawrence soon may get a chance to wipe those tickets off their record for a reduced fee.

In the category of sticks, future and frequent parking offenders in downtown may have a parking boot slapped on their wheels, making their vehicles immobile until they pay their fines.

Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will get a briefing about a new amnesty program and a new enforcement program that involves the use of parking boots.

City staff want to move forward on the amnesty program first. Under the proposal, the city would give most people who currently have unpaid parking tickets in the city one month to enter into an amnesty program. The program would reduce the amount of parking fines owed by any individual by half. Further, the city would pledge to donate half of all proceeds — in other words, half of what the city collects — to the Douglas County Community Foundation. DCCF would use the city funds to award grants to local nonprofits that run food pantries and other similar food-related programs. The other half of the funds the city collects would go into the city’s coffers.

The city hasn’t yet announced when the amnesty program may begin. Rather, staff members are seeking initial approval of the program, with other details to be developed and announced at a later date.

The amnesty program is part of a larger effort to change how city parking tickets are handled. Currently, parking tickets end up being a criminal matter that goes through Lawrence’s Municipal Court. When people rack up tickets and don’t pay them, the city’s ultimate recourse is for the city judge to issue a warrant for a person’s arrest due to a failure to appear in court for parking ticket fines.

“Issuing warrants for failure to appear . . . related to parking citations may be considered overly punitive and does not always result in collecting outstanding fines or correcting noncompliant parking behavior,” Brad Harrell, the city’s parking manager said in an email to the Journal-World.

That’s where the parking boot may come into play. A city-hired consultant is recommending that the city no longer process parking tickets through Municipal Court. Instead, the tickets — and collection of fines — would be handled administratively through a city department. Under that system, ordinary parking tickets no longer would create a criminal record for violators.

However, the consultants acknowledge the city likely will have to use some new measures to get people to pay up, if the threat of court action is no longer a possibility. One recommended strategy is that city officials would place a parking boot on the wheel of a vehicle, if that vehicle is illegally parked and has at least three unpaid parking violations that are past due by 60 days or more.

The use of such parking boots would be new for city operations, although the University of Kansas Parking Department has used similar methods in past years to immobilize the vehicles of frequent parking violators on campus.

The city consultant also said the use of collection agencies to collect past due parking tickets is an option the city could consider.

Eventually, higher parking fines also are a possibility. Commissioners aren’t being asked to approve any new fine structures on Tuesday, but Harrell said his department does plan to complete a separate report that looks at a long-term strategy for parking rates in the downtown area.

“This study is crucial as it aims to develop a long-range parking rate strategy that will effectively support and balance the parking needs and wants of downtown Lawrence residents and businesses,” Harrell said via email. “However, a consultant or timeline for the rate study has yet to be identified.”

Other items on the commission’s agenda include:

• A work study session to get an update on the city’s efforts to ensure public infrastructure such as sidewalks and curb ramps comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The city currently is evaluating its options for a multiyear program. One possible approach, commissioners will be told is a 20-year program that would require an additional $2.5 million a year in city funding that largely would address city sidewalk issues. Under the proposal, residents and businesses who have public sidewalks on their properties that need to be brought up to standards would be expected to provide about $650,000 in funding per year, in addition to the new funding coming from the city.

City commissioners will meet at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth Street.

— This story has been updated to correct the types of infrastructure that the work session will focus on.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.