NEW ORLEANS -- Whether it’s the mall, the doctor's office, the airport, or a bar, you're probably using one. But what's now a necessity could soon be changed by the legislature -- some believe for the worse.
At 28, Glenn Phillips is kind, well-spoken, and a convicted felon once charged with the possession and intent to sell Ecstasy. Now the former addict counsels current ones.
"I'm a totally different person," said Phillips. "I'm not that same person who went to jail, who was using, who was doing all those things."
But if lawmakers get their way, even those who’ve managed to kick the addiction will get a lasting reminder. One piece of proposed legislation would require twice-convicted felony drug offenders to get an orange stamp on their driver's license for eight years that reads, “drug offender.”
"I think it would be too extreme," said Dr. Ken Roy, a psychiatrist who runs the Addiction Recovery Resources of New Orleans.
More than 100 patients are seen daily at the Metairie based drug and alcohol rehab center and close to 25 patients live on-site for an average of two months at a time. Roy said short of just penalizing drug dealers, the proposed legislation goes too far.
"My fear is that it perpetuates the shame that people have about their own addiction,” said Roy. “People with addiction already have enough shame about what they did and they carry society's shame about the disease of addiction and that's a difficult thing to get over."
The bill's author, state Rep. Rickey Hardy, a Republican, said the law would simply provide for the well being of police officers who, rather than having to wait on running criminal checks during routine traffic stops, could use licenses to find out a person's drug history immediately, saying, "We don't want to run the name and then the person shoots at the officer while he's doing that."
Marjorie Esman, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the ACLU, said law enforcement shouldn’t be treating people any differently based on their past and said the bill is nothing more than a scarlet letter.
"It's stigmatizing people to absolutely no useful purpose," she said. "It's a gross invasion of privacy. It means that every time you have to show a driver's license when you board a plane, to write a check at the grocery store, information that is not relevant to that particular activity is going to be disclosed, and it will serve no useful purpose.”
Phillips, now going on four years clean, said the public embarrassment might even lead users to use once more.
"If that person is having a bad day, yeah it could possibly bring them back to drinking or drugging.”
The bill passed unanimously in committee on Tuesday and Hardy predicts the proposal could go to a vote on the House floor by next week.