HB306 is purely punitive

June 10, 2022

House Bill 306 is before the Delaware Legislature. For the 4,500-plus Delawareans who appear on the state Sex Offender Registry, the proposed legislation changes the restrictions designation on the front of their driver’s license from the current “Y” to “SO.” The bill retains the words “sex offender” that already appear on the back of licenses.

HB306 proposes nothing to make the public safer. Delaware driver’s licenses use federally compliant standards, and law enforcement technology provides immediate knowledge of a person’s registry status without relying on any specific license designation. HB306 is purely punitive. 

We show our driver’s licenses at many places like pharmacies, doctor’s offices and banks. Employees of such places have no need to know if someone appears on the registry. HB306 will discourage those individuals from accessing important services. HB306 will only encourage public shaming for individuals who have already been punished, and discourage them from successful reintegration into society, a key component of preventing further offenses.

Delaware should not brand individuals on the registry via their driver’s licenses. Only six states, including Delaware, do so. If HB306 is enacted, Delaware will set itself up for expensive court cases that the state is likely to lose. Since 2019, two states have been sued over this same issue, and their laws were subsequently struck down as unconstitutional, with the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to hear appeals on such cases. 

Much of what we think we know about individuals who appear on the registry is untrue, based on horrific – but very rare – cases that are sensationalized by the media. “Stranger danger” is a myth. It places children at greater risk of being victimized by focusing attention on strangers when studies show that 95 percent of sexual offenses are committed by someone known to the victim, often family members or trusted friends, and not by persons on the registry. 

Delaware is third in the nation for the number of registered sex offenders per capita. That number grows daily and includes hundreds of children who have been placed on the registry. We dilute the effectiveness of the registry by having so many individuals on it. It overwhelms the public, who may perceive predators on every corner, and does not focus resources on offenders who are likely to reoffend. Taxpayer dollars and law enforcement resources should be used to focus on the rare true predators who appear on the registry. This is what will make the public safer.

Many states are reforming their sex offender registry laws, and so should we. Instead of punitive, shame-based laws that make it nearly impossible for individuals – who have already been punished with prison terms – to reintegrate and become productive members of society, our laws should focus on the small population of truly dangerous sexual predators and effective rehabilitation of the rest. Reforming Delaware sexual offense laws will increase public safety, protect re-victimization of past victims, and save taxpayer dollars. HB306 does none of these things, and should be opposed. 

Margaret Hawkins is the chairperson for Delaware Advocates for the Reform of Sexual Offense Laws.


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