Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson supported an initiative to clarify a long-standing provision that gives lawmakers immunity from arrest during the legislative session, but a key Senate lawmaker countered that education, not legislation, is key to clearing up misconceptions about the law.
The so-called “Get out of Jail Free Card” has been the source of debate and controversy at the Capitol, because some believe it could extend to drunk driving. A bill to do away with its privilege cleared the Minnesota House earlier this month, but the Senate has not yet addressed the issue.
The card given to lawmakers sates that under Article 4, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution, lawmakers “in all cases except treason, felony and breach of the peace, shall be privileged from arrest” while the Legislature is in session. Political science students at Concordia University have reprised efforts to make it clear that such immunity does not extend to drunken driving or other crimes.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Swanson asking her to clarify what, exactly the law means. In a three-page response, Swanson said the law, as it applies to modern cases, would not get lawmakers out of an arrest for DWI or any other crime.
Still, Swanson wrote, “I believe it would be helpful and beneficial for the Minnesota Legislature to give additional direction to legislative members, the public, law enforcement, and the courts by enacting legislation to clarify that state legislators have no immunity from arrest for criminal activity, including the crime of driving while intoxicated.”
Latz said he agreed with Swanson that educating lawmakers, the public, police and the courts about the law’s true meaning is necessary.
“Yet, I’m not convinced putting something in law twice will actually resolve any misunderstanding of current law.” Latz said in a statement. “Instead, I propose to meet our shared goal ‘to clarify that state legislators have no immunity for arrest for criminal conduct, including driving while intoxicated,’ through a coordinated, robust education effort.”
Among those efforts, Latz said, is tossing out the wallet-sized cards, “as there is no evidence of a lawmaker being detained for civil arrest in over 200 years.” If the card is necessary, he added, it should be clear that it doesn’t make lawmakers exempt from drunken driving.
“We should train our police officers and sheriff's deputies on the fact that all drunk drivers—no matter who they are—should be duly arrested. And, most importantly, we need to make it clear to all new and veteran state legislators that they have absolutely no immunity from arrest for drunk driving.” Latz said.
The Minnesota campaign finance board cleared the Minnesota Republican Party and the Senate Republicans' campaign arm of 2012 violations, according to a recently released decision.
The agency found that the Republicans made some mistakes on their year-end reports, filed which made it harder to track the party's independent spending on senate races but the errors were inadvertent and fixed through corrections made last month.
"There is no basis to believe that the costs related to the independent expenditures were deliberately misreported. Instead, the record before the Board points to an attempt to report all of the associated costs that was foiled in part by an incomplete understanding of how to use the Campaign Finance Reporter software," the board wrote in closing its investigation.
The investigation was prompted by a DFL Party complaint, filed in January, which accused the Republicans of hiding 2012 spending.
In response to the investigation, the Republican Party treasurer Bron Scherer said the way the Republican Party and the Republican Senate committees did their reporting may have "created a potential for confusion" but the spending was not hidden. The board largely agreed.
In response to the decision, Republican Party Chair Keith Downey accused of the DFL of creating "media bluster" with its complaint.
In a statement, he said he hoped the board's conclusion, "will stop Democrats from filing a complaint and convicting us in the press before the Board even conducts its review."
The board this week also cleared the DFL of violations in response to a GOP complaint.
In January, Republican Party accused the DFL of blurring the lines between independent campaign work and House candidates by using photographs that were not publicly available. The board concluded that the DFL did independently obtain the photographs and found the DFL did not violate the rules of independence.
The recent GOP complaint has echoes of a 2012 Republican complaint. That one concluded in December 2013 and resulted in one of the largest campaign finance fines in state history.
Here's the board conclusion on the Republican Party matter:
A measure requiring cops to get a warrant before using devices to track cell phones overwhelmingly passed the Minnesota Senate 56-1 Tuesday.
Sen. Branden Petersen’s bill was authored in response to concern about “cellular exploitation devices” marketed under names like the Kingfish and Stingray, which mimic local phone towers to capture data and location information of cellular phones in a given area. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has one; so does the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.
The original bill by Petersen, R-Andover, required a search warrant to use the devices, and requires that people tracked by the devices be notified afterward by law enforcement. The devices are currently used with authorization by court order, which is less stringent than a search warrant.
However, a floor amendment during modified the bill to require “tracking warrants” rather than search warrants. While both require a statement of probable cause and signoff by a judge, a tracking warrant is less specific in its requirements than a search warrant, and in many cases is exempt from case law pertaining to search warrants. A tracking warrant also allows law enforcement to cross jurisdictions and can be authorized for a longer period of time.
Petersen said the provision was a last-minute compromise with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and is what resulted in the near-unanimous vote. Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, was the lone dissenter.
“In the interest of moving the bill, we ceded that part to law enforcement,” Petersen said, adding that the bill still makes great strides in protecting citizens’ rights.
=“We’re increasing the privacy threshold, increasing the standard and for the first time requiring that every person be notified after 60 days that they have in fact been searched,” Petersen said. “This has a degree of transparency and accountability to it.”
The bill’s House Companion awaits floor debate.
The proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota has new life in the state Senate, after Gov. Mark Dayton accused lawmakers of avoiding the issue.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee reviewed the bill Thursday. The committee did not vote, but its chair said she would take up the proposal again later this month when lawmakers return from a nearly two-week holiday break that starts Friday.
The bill would give patients with certain medical conditions access to marijuana as treatment. Dayton has expressed reservations about the proposal, citing conflicting views within the medical community as well as opposition by law enforcement groups. Two of Dayton's cabinet officers testified against the proposal at Thursday's Senate hearing: Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger and Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.
But Dayton has also met with patients who use marijuana, and the parents of children with severe epilepsy who want to treat their kids with an oil that contains cannabis extract. He has expressed sympathy, and suggested he might be willing to support state-funded research into the cannabis oil as a possible compromise. Advocates have been reluctant to support research without legalization.
Earlier this week, Dayton chided lawmakers for "hiding behind their desks" on the issue; the bill's Senate sponsor, DFLer Scott Dibble, said that remark motivated him to mount a new push for the bill.
Both Dibble and the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Carly Melin, said they believe the votes are there in the full House and Senate to pass the bill. The Legislature voted in 2009 to legalize medical marijuana, but then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed it.
The Minnesota Senate unanimously passed a bill that would equip first responders with a crucial antidote to heroin overdoses and also provides immunity for people who call 911, even if they may be users themselves.
The measure, nicknamed “Steve’s Law” authored by Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, passed 65-0 Tuesday afternoon. The law is named for Steve Rummler, who died from a heroin overdose in July 2011 after he became addicted to prescription painkillers. His family began the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, which spearheaded efforts to pass the law. The House version of the bill is expected to be debated before the end of session.
The first prong of the bill allows first responders, police officers and prevention program staffers to carry and administer Narcan, a drug that counteracts the effects of an overdose. Administering the drug at the scene, advocates say, could potentially safe lives.
Eaton’s own daughter, 23-year-old Ariel Eaton-Wilson, died from a heroin overdose in 2007. The man with her that day did not call 911 immediately, instead hiding evidence from police. By the time she was taken to the hospital and given Narcan, it was too late.
“This is to get people like the young man who was with my daughter to call 911 instead of hiding things, and denying to the people around that he knew what was going on.” Eaton told the Senate floor shortly before the vote. Despite some concerns that immunity could jeopardize some drug investigations, She added that a poll of four surrounding sheriff’s offices revealed that none had made arrests as a direct result of 911 calls from an overdose scene.
Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, said he voted against a similar measure “Because I didn’t want to reward somebody for what they should do anyway.” However, he changed his mind this year because “I want to reward someone for doing right.”
“Steve’s law removes the prosecution for the greater good, members, for life,” Hall said. “I will be supporting this because I think it’s important that we look at the greater good in this situation.”
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