In a move stirring controversy, a Florida Senate panel greenlights a bill mandating the marking of sex offenders' licenses with red lettering.
TALLAHASSEE - On Thursday, a prominent Senate committee in Florida gave its approval to a bill that stipulates sex offenders must be flagged with red text on their driver's licenses.
Currently, the law mandates the term "sexual predator" to be printed on the front of such individuals' driver's licenses.
The licenses of sexual offenders bear a number referencing a specific Florida statute.
The proposed change stipulates these labels to be displayed on the licenses "using a distinctive layout and … the color red."
These changes form part of a comprehensive Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles bill (SB 1252), which received the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee's endorsement on Thursday.
Opponents of the bill caution that the proposed changes to driver's licenses could severely impact those convicted of sexual offenses, who are already grappling with hurdles related to housing and employment.
Christopher Sparks, a representative of the Florida Action Committee advocating for "rational sexual offense laws," argued that the proposal "doesn't demonstrate toughness on crime, but is unduly harsh on individuals."
A staff review of the proposed legislation noted that similar identification strategies for driver's licenses in Alabama and Louisiana were ruled unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Citing these court rulings, Sen. Lori Berman, a Democrat and attorney from Boca Raton, asserted that "there are existing mechanisms" to cross-check the sex offender database.
Berman expressed her discomfort with the red color scheme, particularly because of its unmistakable similarity to historical scarlet letters. Conversely, Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, defended the proposal.
Garcia asked, "What would lead to a person's name being listed on the sexual registry?" She enumerated offenses such as statutory rape, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and other serious crimes.
She further stated, "I believe this serves as a mechanism to keep a watchful eye on them while also raising public awareness. ... There are repercussions to ending up on a sexual registry."
With this approval, the bill is now set to be debated by the full Senate.