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Bill seeks to move accessible parking closer to Capitol visitor entrance

Bismarck Tribune - 1/23/2019

Jan. 22--Parking complaints are common at North Dakota'sCapitol during the legislative session, but for Carel Two-Eagle it's more than an inconvenience.

The Capitol has two handicapped accessible parking spots near the public entrance of the building, more than 350 feet from the door.

Two-Eagle, a community activist who uses crutches due to osteoarthritis, arrives at the Capitol early each day to try to get a parking spot a little closer.

"Right now access to the people's house, the state Capitol building, is extremely difficult for anyone who's physically challenged," Two-Eagle said.

A bill that has a hearing on Thursday would require state officials to develop a plan to provide accessible parking within 125 feet of the public entrance of the Capitol.

Supporters of the proposal, House Bill 1298, say access to the Capitol for people with disabilities got more difficult when the state adopted new security measures two years ago that require the public to enter through the south entrance.

Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, said he introduced the bill after people told him they don't come to the Capitol because it's not accessible for them.

"This is the center of government and power for the state," Nelson said. "We shouldn't be excluding these people."

Sgt. Tim Coughlin, director of Capitol security, said, if people park in accessible parking spots near other entrances to the Capitol, they can push a buzzer at the door and security will be dispatched to help. Security also has met people who use transit services and helped them get into the building, Coughlin said.

"We're trying to be as accommodating as we can," Coughlin said. "We understand it's a challenge."

John Boyle, director of facility management, said the visitor parking lot is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act because the accessible parking spots are located at the shortest acceptable route to the building.

A fiscal note Boyle prepared for the bill says the accessible parking is 225 feet from the visitor entrance, but his estimate is based on computer drawings. The Bismarck Tribune used a measuring wheel and measured the distance at 350 feet to 370 feet, depending on the exact route.

Boyle estimates it will cost $50,000 to hire an engineer to develop designs to redo the visitor parking lot.

The Dakota Center for Independent Living, which advocates for people with disabilities, plans to support the bill. Director Royce Schultze said he thinks a lack of accessible parking discourages people from getting involved at the legislative session.

"They don't want to go up there and not have any place to park," Schultze said. "Or if they do, it's so far away and, with the weather, they just can't get in."

The small size of some committee rooms also discourages people in wheelchairs from attending hearings, Schultze said.

The hearing is at 8 a.m. Thursday in the Fort Union Room before the House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee.

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