Minnesota student group aims to end legislative immunity from drunk driving arrests

legislative get out of jail free card.jpg
Yes, Minnesota legislators literally receive a "get out of jail free" card.
Did you know Minnesota legislators have immunity from drunk driving arrests while the Legislature is in session?

It's true. Article IV, Section 10 of the state constitution says, "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."

A group of students from St. Paul's Concordia University is making headway in an effort to get rid of legislators' "get out of jail free" card. A bill that would classify drunk driving arrests as a species of "breach of the peace" was approved by a House committee yesterday and will soon be taken up by the full House.

Detroit Lakes Online reports that a group of students in a Concordia political science class has been working on the bill with Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove.

Professor Jayne Jones said Kriesel is "like their coach, telling the players how to do it."

KARE 11 reports that legislative boozin' and cruisin' might happen more often than people think:
Kriesel worked with the students to end legislators' immunity from drunk driving arrests.
Jones said she even witnessed a clearly drunken legislator last year bragging about his immunity from DWI arrests in a St. Paul bar last year.

"We watched him actually walk out of the pub, get in his truck, and drive home, and he could barely stand up," Jones recalled. "When he was leaving I was outraged."

She described the event to her political science students at Concordia, who volunteered another disturbing example. They said a fellow student who interned at the Capitol went out for dinner with a group that included two senators.

"When it was time to leave the Kelly Inn, one of the senators said she could drive because she had immunity," Concordia senior Taylor Gittens explained.

"The senator ended up hitting a median on the way home, and the student intern was very frightened and upset."
The immunity provision has been a part of Minnesota's constitution since the beginning. Initially, the idea was that legislators might have their political rivals arrested on the way to the Capitol before key votes. But penalties for drunk driving have stiffened in recent years, the threat of politically motivated arrest seems more remote, and the Concordia students have persuasively made the case that there is no good reason for legislators to be able to get away with boozin' and cruisin', session or no session.

With the bill progressing through the House, students have begun lobbying legislators on behalf of the Senate version.

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