The D.C. government, long noted for its ability to strain common sense, has gone and done it again.

Patricia Spirer of Southeast was socked with a $50 ticket one day in June for lacking a front license plate. She didn't even realize her front plate was missing until she noticed the pink ticket.

Clearly, the tag had been stolen, for why would Patricia remove her own plate? For the privilege of spending six hours in line to obtain a replacement? To fine Patricia was to penalize her for her own innocent misfortune.

Patricia wrote to the city and demanded that the charges be dropped. But the city refused.

That was bad enough. Worse was the second sentence in the second paragraph of the city's form letter. It said that if Patricia wanted to appeal the $50 fine, it would cost her an additional $10.

On what legal basis does the city charge a fee for the right to appeal a ticket? I'm no lawyer, heaven knows. But that sounds to me like unequal protection under the law, cruel and unusual punishment and an infringement of one's right to legal process. Not to mention lousy public relations.

The city replies that the $10 is an administrative fee, not a punitive charge designed to strip people of their rights. Tara Hamilton, director of public affairs for the D.C. Department of Public Works, said the money covers the cost of paperwork generated during appeals.

Interestingly, the $10 fee "does not seem to be discouraging people from appeals," Tara added. In 1986, she said, 225 appeals were filed. As of early October 1987, 319 have been filed.

Even so, the District government ought to take a good look in the mirror over this one.

At $10 a clip, the city covered $2,250 worth of appeals paperwork last year. Is the city seriously saying that $2,250 can't be found in the budget?

And why put the screws to home-towners like Patricia Spirer? She would have replaced her stolen front plate just as fast (and would have respected the city government much more) if a warning ticket had been given, and an appeal had been as free as it is everywhere else.

Fallout from recent columns . . . .

DIAPERING IN PUBLIC: I told the tale of a Mom who diapered her baby on top of a table in a crowded restaurant, without so much as a sideways glance. Dozens of readers agreed that the mom ought to be chained to a chair and forced to watch Sesame Street reruns for the next 311 years.

But many of those readers made an important point -- one that I shouldn't have overlooked.

Why don't restaurants and other busy establishments put changing tables in their restrooms? It would cost very little, but it would prevent moms like the one I described from deciding that tabletops are their only hope.

VOTING NO TO THE CONSTITUTION: I described a video display at the National Archives. It asked people if they would have voted to approve the U.S. Constitution if they'd been asked in 1787. More than 5,000 people voted yes. But more than 1,700 voted no. I decided that the 1,700 were teen-aged wise guys looking for attention.

Not necessarily so, noted a number of readers.

Two states didn't ratify the Constitution right away for a variety of excellent political reasons, several readers pointed out. And special thanks to Elizabeth S. Ramadass of Northwest and Linda Reid of Upper Marlboro. They both noted that black Americans would probably not have voted yes on the Constitution, because it denied to blacks the same rights it provided to whites.

Linda put it this way:

"Did it occur to you that possibly some of those {negative} answers were from black citizens . . . ? Or maybe from female citizens, who were not included in the Constitution at all?"

No, Linda, it didn't, although it certainly should have. I hope this sets matters straight.

Mark Arden spotted this bumper sticker aboard a Jaguar the other day:


Another bumper sticker story, this one with a surprising twist:

Donna Meyers of Sterling was close behind a car near her home the other day. It bore a bumper sticker, but Donna couldn't make it out. Finally, when she pulled in close behind the sticker-bearing car at a red light, she discovered why.

The sticker said:


It was mounted upside down.

Before the cries of sexism descend, consider this:

The driver was a beautiful, young blonde -- who obviously mounted the sticker that way on purpose, and who is therefore more clever than most brunettes.