ST. PAUL - A bill making its way through the Minnesota Legislature is seeking to remove an obscure benefit of being a legislator - the right to drive drunk.
Legislators are literally granted a "get out of jail free" card for certain offenses when the Legislature is in session. The rights to these privileges are granted directly from the Minnesota Constitution in Article IV, Section 10. It states that legislators have exemption from arrest on all legal violations expect for treason, disturbing the peace and felony offenses.
The exemptions are in effect during the session and while lawmakers are traveling to or from the Capitol. All legislators receive a signed card from the Secretary of State to prove their right in applicable situations.
Companion bills introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate are aimed at changing the privilege with respect to drunk driving by redefining driving while intoxicated to qualify as a breach of peace for the purposes of the Minnesota Constitution. The bill will end legislators' immunity from arrests for driving while intoxicated, but legislators will retain immunity for all other misdemeanor offenses while in session.
The bill was initially pushed by the class of Concordia University political science adjunct professor Jayne Jones. The group sought to raise awareness after a student claimed to witness a senator bragging about her immunity from a drunk driving arrest, then drive away while intoxicated.
Sen. Mike Parry (R-Waseca), one of the authors of the Senate bill, said the bill is simple and straight-forward, which has allowed it to have easy progress towards becoming law.
"The kids from Concordia brought this up after some issues. We are just clarifying exactly what the card means and what you can do," said Parry.
The Senate bill will be heard in the Judiciary and Public Safety committee on Thursday. If it passes there, it will progress to the Senate floor for a vote. Meanwhile, the House bill has already passed through the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance committee. It is expected to get a vote on the House floor this week or early next week.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)