By HOLLY NUNN
ANNAPOLIS (January 25, 2011) - State Sen. Richard F. Colburn wants to make sure police officers in Maryland know what they're dealing with when they stop a sex offender on the road, especially if that sex offender has a child in the car.
Colburn, R-Dorchester, has introduced legislation this year that would require that driver's licenses display a code identifying sex offenders to law enforcement.
"I believe that if we're serious about cracking down on sex offenders, we need to give our police officers this tool," Colburn said.
Colburn introduced a similar measure last year during a flurry of legislative activity on sex offenders in response to the December 2009 rape and murder of 11-year-old Sarah Foxwell in Wicomico County. A registered sex offender has been charged with the crime.
The 2010 legislation passed the Senate but died in conference committee due to concerns that the amendment had not been properly vetted and that it could lead to violation of offenders' rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been among those opposed to such legislation, calling any mark on an identification card "a scarlet letter" and an unnecessary measure.
David Walsh-Little, a public defender and member of Maryland's Sex Offender Advisory Board, said the mark would have the effect of "marginalizing people who need treatment in a society that needs education about sex offenses."
Colburn said the code, placed on a sex offender's driver's license by the Motor Vehicle Administration, could only be read by law enforcement. And that might be enough to convince other legislators to support the bill.
"If Sen. Colburn brings it back to the Judicial Proceedings Committee, and it's in a code that's only discernible to police officers, it has my support," said Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County, and a member of that committee. "Because I think that's a win-win."
Colburn is unsure of how exactly the bill would be implemented, but Wicomico County Sherriff Mike Lewis, who led the search for Sarah Foxwell and worked with Colburn on the legislation, said there are a couple of ways it could be marked on the license—either in the bar code or with a small, lettered caution code, similar to the marking for drivers with corrective lenses.
Lewis said that such marks would give his officers an additional level of awareness when pulling over sex offenders.
"I have every right, actually I have a duty, to ask that sex offender additional questions if he has a child in the car," Lewis said. Investigators believe that Sarah Foxwell was driven throughout Wicomico County the night of her disappearance.
Similar legislation has been considered in Connecticut and California. A few states, including Delaware, Louisiana and Tennessee, already have laws for marking the driver's licenses of sex offenders.
Other legislation has been introduced to crack down on sex offenders, including a bill toughening the punishment for indecent exposure involving minors and a bill to criminalize attempted sexual offense in the third degree.