Legislation Targets Scofflaw Diplomats

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Diplomats who routinely park illegally in New York City and violate other American laws should have their foreign assistance money and new diplomatic vehicle license plates denied by the U.S.

So says a New York Republican, who is hopping mad about what he called "diplomatic scofflaws."

Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.) has introduced legislation that, if passed, would funnel more than $21 million into New York City's coffers to pay for the more than "200,000 unpaid parking summonses that foreign officials have racked up since 1997."

Fossella found that many fines were issued for safety violations, including blocking fire hydrants, parking on sidewalks and parking in no-parking and no-standing zones.

"New York City is proud to welcome individuals from around the world as home of the United Nations. However, the laws of New York City apply to all people equally, regardless of whether the individual is a diplomat, a school teacher or a construction worker," said Fossella.

"It is inexcusable for any United Nations diplomat to disregard the laws of our city and, subsequently, the penalties that accompany these actions. Indeed, as a guest of the United States, foreign officials should show our nation the respect it deserves by following the simple parking rules of our city and accept full responsibility if they fail to do so," Fossella said.

His bill is modeled after a similar program that has been in place for several years now in Washington, D.C.

Under Fossella's legislation, any foreign nation that owes New York City money in unpaid parking fines would have that amount subtracted from their total foreign assistance package for the year. The subtracted amount would go to New York.

Diplomats would also be denied new diplomatic license plates until their outstanding fines are settled.

"As New York City struggles to close a $5 billion budget gap, I believe the more than $21 million that we are owed could go a long way in enhancing senior centers, improving our parks and upgrading our schools," Fossella said.

Fossella's study found that Egypt is the worst offender. It owes the city $1.7 million.

The list of the top 10 offenders also include Kuwait, Nigeria, Indonesia, Morocco, Brazil, Greece, Pakistan, China and Malaysia.

His bill comes as New York City and the State Department continue to negotiate the details of a tentative agreement reached last year that would crack down on the illegal parking habits of foreign officials in New York.

According to the United Nations, diplomats can park free of charge in the 1,200-space multi-level garage under the UN complex. For the average citizen, parking in a garage on the East Side of Manhattan can cost up to $35 a day.

City officials told CNSNews.com that diplomats get away with illegal parking because of diplomatic immunity. They also said leaders of missions and consulates receive a monthly report informing them how much is owed on parking violations.

However, the State Department says diplomatic immunity does not exempt diplomatic officers from conforming with national and local laws and regulations.

"Diplomatic immunity is not intended to serve as a license for persons to flout the law and purposely avoid liability for their actions," the State Department says on its website.

The State Department says it assigns points for driving infractions, suspending the licenses of foreign mission personnel "who abuse the privilege of driving in the United States by repeatedly committing traffic violations."

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