A key Senate panel on Thursday approved a measure that would require sex offenders to be identified with red lettering on their driver’s licenses.
Under current law, driver’s licenses of sexual predators are marked “sexual predator” on the front of the cards.
Sexual offenders’ driver’s licenses are marked with a numerical reference to a Florida law.
The proposal would require the designations to be printed on licenses “in a distinctive format and … in the color red.”
The designations are included in a broad Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles bill (SB 1252) approved Thursday by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee.
Critics warned that the proposed driver’s license changes could have a devastating impact on people convicted of sexual offenses, who already face barriers in housing and employment.
The proposal “is not being tough on crime but being tough on individuals,” said Christopher Sparks, who spoke on behalf of the Florida Action Committee, which advocates for "rational sexual offense laws."
A staff analysis of the measure said similar driver’s license designations in Alabama and Louisiana have been struck down as unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Pointing to the court decisions, Sen. Lori Berman, a Boca Raton Democrat who is a lawyer, argued “there are already systems in place” to check the sex offender database.
“It troubles me that we’re putting it in red, particularly. I mean the comparison to those scarlet letters is undeniable,” Berman said.
But Sen. Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, defended the proposal. “What are the reasons for someone being put on the sexual registry list?” she said.
Garcia pointed to offenses including statutory rape, kidnapping, false imprisonment and other crimes.
“I think this is a way to be able to keep our eyes on them and continue to create awareness. … There are consequences for landing on a sexual registry,” she said. The proposal is now ready to go to the full Senate.