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House passes legislator immunity bill

The House on Wednesday night passed legislation that specifies in state statute that lawmakers don’t have immunity from arrest. The vote was 115-13.

The sponsor of HF2281, Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), said there’s U.S. Supreme Court precedent that probably means a state lawmaker isn’t above the law for offenses like drunken driving. But he said it’s necessary to put any lingering doubt to rest.

House floor session - part 2

“I think by passing this bill, clarifying what the law is, we resolve that problem for ourselves and we resolve the confusion with the public,” Winkler said.

The bill had been awaiting action in the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee, but was brought to the floor when the House voted 100-28 in favor of a motion by Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) to suspend the House rules to hear the bill.

The issue gained traction this session as the result of a lobbying effort by students from Concordia University in St. Paul. They called attention to Article IV of the Minnesota Constitution that states legislators “shall be privileged from arrest” during the legislative session except in cases of treason, felony and breach of the peace.

Several lawmakers, however, said the vote was motivated by politics rather than good policy. Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) criticized the hasty process for bringing what he called “sloppy” legislation to the floor.

“We’ve suspended the rules to do 100 percent pure politics on this bill,” Lesch said.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Kathy Sheran (DFL-Mankato). The Senate version, SF2073, was laid on the table March 27 by the Senate Judiciary Committee.


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