Tevlin: Legislators fight to keep their immunity from DWIs during session

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 22, 2014 - 6:49 PM

Some political science students from Concordia University are getting a peek inside the sausage factory this legislative session, and they are coming away with new views on how our political process works, and it’s not always pretty.

You probably heard the adage about laws and sausages: It’s best not to see them being made.

Well, some political science students from Concordia University are getting a peek inside the sausage factory this legislative session, and they are coming away with new views on how our political process works, and it’s not always pretty.

The students are part of a course about how laws are created and passed at the Legislature. Instead of limiting the class to book learning, Prof. Jayne Jones had students research and write a bill and actually get someone to carry it for passage.

The current class effort seems like a bipartisan no-brainer, particularly during an “unsession” in which arcane laws are supposed to be eliminated.

Currently, the Minnesota Constitution gives legislators what amounts to a “get-out-of-jail-free” card during the session, allowing them “legislative immunity” from arrest in all cases except “treason, felony and breach of the peace.”

The eight students want to add drunken driving to the breach of peace exception to make sure politicians are not getting away with it during the session.

What kind of dope would oppose that?

Well …

The students started their mission with a lot of heavy lifting, doing background checks on legislators. They have no hard evidence that lawmakers are getting out of drunken driving, but they’ve heard quite a few anecdotes.

“We saw that [legislators] were getting DUIs from May through December,” said Adam Goinz, a senior history major and political science minor. “Ironically, or not so ironically, they weren’t getting them during the session. That’s kind of strange.”

Indeed.

“Impaired driving is really, really bad, whether you are a legislator or not,” said Goinz. “I also think that legislators should not be above the laws that they make.”

The idea of legislative immunity comes from 17th-century British conflicts, in which rulers had some lawmakers arrested to keep them from important votes. But the law is now outdated, particularly when it comes to drunken driving, students say.

“When anybody in the public is told about the [immunity], they are shocked,” said Goinz.

Hope Baker is another student who used her spring break last week to fight for the bill, called the Legislative Immunity Act of 2014.

“We have had legislators tell us ‘I would rather have them drive drunk than miss a vote,’ and ‘I love my card,’ ” Baker said, incredulously.

“I had a committee member tell me last week that he knew of someone who used their card in a suburb two weeks before that, and justified it by saying there were not cab services in the area,” Baker added.

The students checked, and there were several cab companies serving the area.

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