Published March 18, 2012
The Minnesota Legislature is expected to vote this week to rescind a get-out-of-jail-free card for state lawmakers who are arrested for drunken driving.
The provision, found in the state constitution, allows lawmakers "privilege from arrest" when they are pulled over by police. According to Article IV, Section 10, of the Minnesota Constitution, "the members of each house in all cases except treason, felony and breach of the peace, shall be privileged from arrest during the session of their respective houses and in going to or returning from the same."
"Back in the 1800s, when our Founding Fathers wrote the constitution, there was a natural fear of political retribution for certain votes and freedoms of speech, that our Founding Fathers wrote this in our constitution for that purpose," said Concordia University political science professor Jayne Jones.
Jones, who has been leading her class through the process as it pushes the Legislature to act, first approached the topic after state Rep. Mark Buesgens was captured on a police dashcam in September 2010 taking a sobriety test. That was three years after state Senate President Jim Metzen received a driving while impaired citation in South St. Paul hours after gaveling the session to a close.
Jones told Fox News that while her class was considering the subject last year, one of her students who had been interning at the Minnesota Senate recounted that during a legislative reception, a state senator told her to catch a ride with her since she couldn't get arrested for DWI. The senator then hit the median in the road while driving away.
Nate Thienes, a student in Jones' class who wants to be a police officer, said he was "appalled when I found out about this, that there were people allowed to drink and drive, especially with all the laws that legislators recently made to make DUIs tougher in Minnesota."
The legislation, being sponsored in the Minnesota Legislature by Republican Rep. John Kriesel in the House and Republican Sen. Mike Parry in the Senate, is expected to be voted on this week since the respective public safety committees reportedly pushed it through with a deadline for action of Friday.
The bill would add DWI to the list of violations that qualify as breaching the peace, thereby not changing the constitution itself.