Tennessee state representative Matthew Hill is sponsoring a bill that would list the words “sex offender” in red lettering and in three places on each and every sex offender’s Tennessee driver’s license.
The state currently prints a code on the backs of sex offenders’ driver’s licenses, which discreetly alert police of their status. Anybody is able to search the state’s registry for the names, locations, and photographs of listed offenders.
Hill has said that the law could come in handy at “malls, grocery stores, retail outlets – all kinds of places where children are.”
Tennessee, like most states, already closely regulates the behavior of released sex offenders. In most circumstances, they are required to stay at least 1,000 feet away from schools and day care centers.
Provided that they notify the school or daycare center of their sex-offender status, however, sex offenders are permitted to drop off and pick up their own children from these institutions. They are also allowed to attend meetings with administrators.
Hill has said that he was moved to support the legislation after a voter brought up the issue of sex offenders “dropping into schools and day cares and scooping up their children.” However, Hill also admits he’s never actually heard of such an incident happening.
At a Wednesday meeting, Tennessee House transportation committee chair Representative Vince Dean fought the bill, asking Hill if his intention was to cause an offender “embarrassment if they, say, go to buy a pack of cigarettes or a pack of Copenhagen?”
“It brings to mind,” Dean continued, “that, maybe, a scarlet letter put on his breast might work as well.”
Hill responded, “Well, if you thought that was necessary, that would be fine.”
Hill’s political history and presence has been colorful; he ran for office with an image of a fetus on his campaign fliers, and has entertained the notion that Obama was not born in the U.S. Notably, he has also previously proposed legislation that would force Tennesseans to “exclusively speak English while at work.”
Hill’s motion to make sex offenders’ status more publicly visible is not totally unprecedented. In 1994, New Jersey passed Megan’s Law, which requires that sex offenders publicly register for their crimes. Megan’s Law was sparked by an incident in which a 7-year-old girl was raped and killed by a previously convicted sex offender who had been released.
In 2006, Wisconsin passed a law that would require certain sex offenders to wear electronic ankle bracelets monitored by GPS for the rest of their lives.
Sex-offender registries have “ballooned” in recent years and include people convicted of crimes like public exposure and prostitution. Provisions also designate areas where sex offenders who have served their time are allowed to live, work, and idle in their cars.
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