ST. PAUL — A bill to take away lawmakers’ immunity from arrest for drunken driving, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Sheran, was tabled by a judiciary panel Thursday.
“It lets you know that politics is a dirty game,” said Akolade Gbadamosi, a junior at Concordia University. He’s one of a group of students who persuaded legislators, including the Mankato Democrat, to carry the bill and helped shepherd it through committees.
The setback greatly dims the bill’s prospects, especially because the committee's last meeting is today. Sheran appeared to have been the only vote in favor, but the vote was taken by voice so there’s not an official record of votes.
The Minnesota Constitution gives lawmakers immunity from arrest during session in all cases except for felonies, treason and breach of the peace. This provision was apparently intended to prevent lawmakers from being arrested on trumped-up charges, especially in civil cases, in order to keep them from attending key votes.
The bill was on life support after it failed to meet a House deadline last week, but its prospects were revived Saturday by House Speaker Paul Thissen.
“If I have anything to do with it, this law will be changed this year,” he wrote on Twitter.
It’s sometimes called a “get out of jail free” card, and legislators actually do get a little card detailing their rights under the Constitution.
Instead of changing the state Constitution, the bill changes the definition of “breach of the peace,” to include driving while intoxicated.
“It’s kind of common sense,” said Chris Plotch, a freshman. “Why should a legislator be above the law that they make?”
On its surface, the bill makes a simple case that has broad appeal.
“Should they be allowed to drive drunk during session?” committee Chair Ron Latz asked. “Everyone will say no.”