Bill Could Rescind Minnesota Legislators’ Immunity to DWI
Minnesota lawmakers are currently immune to DWI arrests, but that could end after a bill was passed by a House committee on March 28. This came a day after the Senate’s version of the bill was tabled by lawmakers who say the rescinding is unnecessary.
This provision in the Minnesota state constitution dates back to 1858, when the founding fathers wanted legislators protected from arrest and detention when it was time for them to vote on important measures. In other words, they wanted to ensure that all bodies were present at the time of important votes.
It was during the Judiciary Committee hearing that the bill stalled and one representative made a motion to table it. However, it was agreed by any who viewed it as unnecessary because legislators should not be above the law.
The Minnesota Sheriff’s Association said that it doesn’t matter who a person is; failing an impaired driving test will result in arrest. Legislators wishing to table the bill said that they have faith that law enforcement throughout the state will properly handle DWI situations no matter who the alleged offender is. They said that if the bill would curb any abuse of power, they would be happy to reconsider it. However, they feel that it is not necessary since law enforcement will handle the matter accordingly.
However, in St. Paul’s Concordia University, eliminating the language of the original law has become a project for a group of political science students. One of those students played a major part in getting the bill sponsored.
After the bill was approved by the Civil Law Committee, the student said that the lawmakers that are arguing that immunity isn’t being abused are missing a major point. She said the point is that they cannot be arrested for DWI and they cannot be detained, which removes the option to gather evidence. Comments by one representative and a sheriff’s deputy made the point during the hearing.
The representative who supports the end to immunity, said that law enforcement officers are told that they can be subject to a gross-misdemeanor and termination of their employment if they intimidate a member of the Legislature. This is primarily why evidence sopmetimes does not exist in cases where legislators have been pulled over for suspected DWI. While such Minnesota DWI offenses by legislators are far and in between, they have happened and they will undoubtedly occur again in the future.
Another representative stated that she wondered whether or not the entire exercise of seeking to change the language of the original bill was more of an academic cause. She cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1908 of Williamson v. United States, which stated that legislators could be prosecuted if they allegedly committed a crime.
She stated that, perhaps, the issue is more of a political matter than a legal one. In the meantime, the law remains, but law enforcement will continue to exercise what they know in DWI cases and prosecute them based on their current rules.
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