Mixed results: States' efforts to label drunken drivers, sexual offenders

| 6/9/2006

Two bills in the Florida Legislature that called for putting special marks on certain driver’s licenses and license plates have died.

Drunken drivers would have been easier to spot under a measure that was awaiting approval on the House floor when the session ended.

Sponsored by Rep. Fred Brummer, R-Apopka, the bill have would required bright orange-pink colored license plates with the letters “DUI” on vehicles driven by people with restricted driving privileges because of convictions for driving under the influence.

A provision was dropped from the bill – HB627 – that would have permitted police to make random stops on vehicles displaying the special license plates. The bill would have required the orange plates be placed on any vehicles DUI offenders drive, regardless who owns them. The plates would have cost $20 a year, in addition to regular license fees.

Opponents said the requirement would lead to unfair scrutiny and labeling of individuals. Supporters said it was needed to help the public to know that the driver could be dangerous.

Similar provisions are in place in other states. Georgia and Minnesota use a special combination of numbers or letters to identify motorists convicted of driving while intoxicated, while Ohio makes yellow plates with red numbers mandatory, The Associated Press reported.

In addition, Michigan uses paper tags to identify repeat offenders, while Oregon and Washington put a zebra sticker over the plate of habitual offenders.

Other states have debated similar rules this year, including California, Louisiana and Maryland.

Another failed effort in Florida would have required a special mark to be placed on driver’s licenses for sexual offenders and predators. Sponsored by Rep. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, the bill was awaiting consideration in the Senate when the session ended. The House already approved it 117-1.

The bill – HB7117 – would have required sexual offenders and predators to obtain licenses or identification cards that display their conviction number. Individuals with prior convictions also would have been required to have the special mark, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

Supporters said the measure would help schools identity what kind of visitors are trying to enter their campuses. Opponents said it would unfairly bring shame on people.

A similar effort failed in the Oklahoma Legislature. Lawmakers were unable to agree on wording in a bill that sought to identify registered sex offenders on their state driver’s licenses.

Sponsored by Sen. Brian Cain, R-Tulsa, the bill would have required convicted sex offenders to obtain a new license stating their status as a sex offender. For those who fail to comply could have their license canceled for one year and be fined up to $200.

The bill – SB1426 – was awaiting consideration in a House-Senate conference committee when the regular session ended late last month.

However, Oklahoma lawmakers did send a bill, SB1800, to Gov. Brad Henry that would allow the death penalty for repeat sex offenders who prey on children under age 14.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor