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No DWI immunity for legislators

Published (3/23/2012)
By Mike Cook
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Except in cases of treason, a felony and breach of the peace, House and Senate members can constitutionally avoid arrest “during the session of their respective houses and in going to or returning from the same.”

A bill approved March 15 by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee and sent to the House floor would specify that a DWI offense constitutes a breach of peace as it relates to legislative immunity.

“I think it sends a wrong message to our constituents, to the people of the state of Minnesota, that we have the ability to make laws down here, but some of them we are exempted from arrest,” said Rep. John Kriesel (R-Cottage Grove).

He sponsors HF1838 that was brought to him by a group of students from Concordia University in St. Paul.

“In 2010, 82 Minnesotans were arrested for impaired driving a day. One out of every eight Minnesotans currently has a DWI,” said Nate Thienes, a junior at the school. “We are for public safety first, but we cannot ignore fairness.”

Senior Taylor Gittens said “seven to eight other states” have recently changed their immunity laws for various crimes.

This is not a cause-and-effect bill, said Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano), noting there was no incident that led to this proposal.

Rep. Joe Mullery (DFL-Mpls) said that the change could leave a district without someone to represent them at the Capitol while the legislator is under arrest.”They have a right to have that legislator voting here. … I see no problem with why can’t the evidence be taken and the booking and all that kind of stuff that goes along with an arrest happen later when it’s not gonna interfere with somebody’s representing their people here.”

“It’s more than just an issue of are they fit to vote or are the people of that district getting that voice,” Kriesel said. “I would consider that a dereliction of duty.”

A companion, SF2226, sponsored by Sen. Mike Parry (R-Waseca), awaits action by the full Senate.

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