START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x
1,291,646 people care about Politics

Are Lawmakers Getting a Special Exemption From Drunk Driving Arrests?

Are Lawmakers Getting a Special Exemption From Drunk Driving Arrests?

Written by Rebecca Leber

Written into Minnesota’s constitution is a 19th century provision that exempts state lawmakers from arrest for certain violations, like drunk driving. Lawmakers receive a physical card that grants them “privilege from arrest,” except for treason, felony, and breach of the peace,” that lasts for an active legislative session. Critics from the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the House and Senate, and Concordia University say it amounts a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.

Minnesota is not alone: In 2012, a Colorado Republican invoked her legislative privilege during a DUI stop with a police officer. Some 43 states have versions of legislative immunity.

After a group of Concordia University political science students raised the issue, Minnesota has become a kind of bellwether on the issue. Wednesday night, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill to remove legislative immunity, clarifying that any “breach of the peace” would include drunk driving. It passed on a 115 to 13 vote. However, a similar bill in the Senate has faced a dead-end in committee due to surprising resistance in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The debate is over whether existing law adequately removes DWI immunity or if the confusion warrants a new law.

According to House bill sponsor Rep. Ryan Winkler (D), Minnesota’s immunity law as written creates confusion for both legislators and law enforcement over what to do if a representative or senator is caught driving drunk.

“The concern is that by not passing this law there is a big chilling effect on police officers to enforce the law,” Winkler told ThinkProgress. He thinks it is worth addressing so that representatives do not appear to be above the law. “Public perception is something we should be concerned about.” Mothers Against Drunk Driving cites the bill as one way the state can improve its poor rating on drunk driving.

Bill opponents generally agree with the principle that legislators should not have special treatment, but contend that a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1908, Williamson v. United States, already allows for prosecution.

Sen. Scott Newman (R) opposed the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, moving to table it and killing its chances for a floor vote. While he did not return ThinkProgress’ request for comment, he has previously claimed a new law is redundant and unnecessary. “As we’ve heard from the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, it doesn’t matter who you are, if you fail an impaired driving test you will be arrested,” Newman said in a statement Friday. “I have faith in our law enforcement to handle these situations properly. If there is evidence of abuse of power that would be curbed by passing this bill, I will gladly move to reconsider.”

The Senate’s bill sponsor Sen. Kathy Sheran (D) told ThinkProgress that legislators are now asking the Attorney General for clarification on whose interpretation is the right one. In the meantime, she is looking for other avenues to pass it in the Senate, including attaching it as an amendment to a related bill.

Does the immunity card cause legislators to think differently about violating the law? It is difficult to answer, because no one has offered a verified story about a drunk driving incident. But anecdotally, one advocate for the bill says she has heard legislators say, “‘I would rather have them drive drunk than miss a vote.’”

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Read more: , , ,

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it

115 comments

+ add your own
10:59AM PDT on Jul 9, 2014

We all know people that got out of a ticket. They did the deed but didn't get the penalty. Why? How? & Why can't I do that?

8:26PM PDT on Apr 27, 2014

“I have faith in our law enforcement to handle these situations properly. If there is evidence of abuse of power that would be curbed by passing this bill, I will gladly move to reconsider.”

That is a good one....how can there be abuse of power when they are legally given the get out of jail free card to cover the instance?

Typical politicians covering their butts. Disgusting.

6:54PM PDT on Apr 21, 2014

N/S ;) T.R

8:23PM PDT on Apr 16, 2014

Since they don't help people much when they could, don't see any reason to help them out of trouble. Treat them like every one else.

8:09PM PDT on Apr 16, 2014

Laws of any kind should apply to everyone!

4:34PM PDT on Apr 16, 2014

applling!

6:39AM PDT on Apr 16, 2014

I'm sure it does happen.

3:36AM PDT on Apr 16, 2014

Like many in the Kennedy family?

2:25AM PDT on Apr 16, 2014

It's amazing (and appalling) that Sen Newman would vote to table the bill and then cloak his actions in anti-redundancy rhetoric. Since when has too much legislation ever been an issue? Seems only when it may level the playing field...The only thing worse than the action is the blatant disregard for justice.

10:13PM PDT on Apr 15, 2014

MONEY TALKS, BULL SHIT WALKS. Thank-you for sharing.T.R

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

Care2 - Be Extraordinary - Start a Care2 Petition
ads keep care2 free
CONTACT THE EDITORS

Recent Comments from Causes

Interesting concept: a tiger with a pumpkin and a mummy for Halloween! Weird but interesting.

I thought we made progress, Dale. I thought we were just having fun. I'm truly sorry.

Donnie H~~ There is a dead man and a an officer who shot him. What the officer's motive or intent…

ads keep care2 free



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.