The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 27, 2014

Senate deals blow to DUI immunity repeal

Kathy Sheran is sponsor of 'get-out-of-jail' card change


But it soon became clear that it wasn’t that simple.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he doubts that legislators are using their immunity to avoid arrest for drunken driving. He asked Sheran if there were any records of that happening.

Sheran said students pored over legislators’ driving records and found drunken driving convictions between May and December, when session was out. But there were no such convictions during the months that session is held. It’s statistically impossible, Sheran said, that mere chance explains those results; some lawmakers must have been using their card to avoid arrest.

Sheran’s fellow senators were unconvinced.

Newman said “it would surprise me greatly if a police officer pulled over a legislator (for DUI) and failed to take him in. … It almost seems like an academic exercise, the kind of thing we would see in law school, discuss the pros and cons.”

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said he’d heard of a legislator who tried to use his card after being pulled over for drunken driving. It didn’t work; he was taken to jail.

And the opposition was bipartisan.

Latz, D-St. Louis Park, said the card already doesn’t apply to DUI.

The intent of these laws, which exist elsewhere, concerned civil law violations, he said after talking to Senate Counsel Ken Backhus.

He also suggested that media coverage may have created the perception that a problem exists. It’s not enough to say, in other words, that lawmakers are allowed to drive drunk and assume that legislation is necessary.

Latz said he’s “troubled that we should legislate for a problem that we don’t know exist, just for the purposes of, I don’t know, comfort in some ways.”

Sheran responded that it wasn’t simply a feel-good law just because there’s no proof a problem exists.

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