Mark Ritchie pulls plug on legislators' "get out of jail" cards [UPDATE]

ImmunityCard.jpg
These cards are now collector's items.
-- Updates at bottom --

This session, a bill to strip legislators of their immunity from most non-felony arrests stalled in the Senate amid disagreement over whether new legislation was really needed in order to make state senators and representatives subject to DWIs.

Today, outgoing Secretary of State Mark Ritchie cleared up any confusion by announcing that his office will simply stop issuing the cards at the start of future legislative sessions. (For some perspective on how the Secretary of State's Office handled issuing the immunity cards in the past, read our interview with a former state employee who manufactured them here.)

See also:
Legislators using strange logic in ongoing effort to kill bill stripping them of DWI immunity

Here's a press release issued by the Secretary of State's Office this morning:
The Office of the Minnesota Secretary State today informed legislators that it will no longer print or distribute the legislative privilege cards.

"We are discontinuing the cards given the lack of a statutory requirement for our office to issue them," says Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

The Secretary of State also informed the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and law enforcement organizations that the office will no longer issue the cards.
We contacted Ritchie spokesman Nathan Bowie for further comment, and he told us Ritchie himself would be happy to talk to us today. We'll update this post when we hear back (see update below).

:::: UPDATE ::::

We're still trying to nail down a time to interview Secretary of State Ritchie this afternoon or tomorrow morning, but in the meantime his spokesman Nathan Bowie responded to a couple questions we sent via email.

Bowie pointed out that Ritchie's decision to discontinue the cards doesn't affect the statutory language at the core of the legislative debate, but is simply his prerogative since the law doesn't require him to distribute them.

As to whether distribution of the cards could be resumed by whoever becomes the next secretary of state, Bowie says, "The next secretary of state could decide to resume them -- that would be a question to pose to the candidates running."

"But, our hope is this action removes this issue from the desk of the next secretary so he/she can focus on other matters," he continued.

:::: UPDATE II ::::

Reached for comment last night, Secretary of State Ritchie said the decision to discontinue printing and distributing the immunity cards came after a review of state statute revealed his office was under no legal compulsion to do so.

The review was prompted in large part by testimony at the Legislature by the Concordia University students who were advocating for a bill stripping legislators of immunity from arrest this past session, Ritchie said. In past years, he simply assumed the immunity cards had some sort of statutory basis (they were printed and distributed by the secretary of state for 40 years), but students pointed out they didn't and a closer look confirmed they're right.

Ritchie reiterated that discontinuing the cards doesn't affect language in the state constitution that 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."

But nowhere in that passage does it say anything about immunity cards.

"It's not my job to interpret law," Ritchie said.

Ritchie added that it's ultimately up to the Legislature to determine how, if at all, that passage translates into law. They chose not to tackle the issue this session, and so Ritchie took action instead.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at arupar@citypages.com.



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32 comments
EricLarsen
EricLarsen

Not sure how this would work with logistics and evidence gathering, but if they are pulled over driving drunk, can they still be arrested the day after the session closes, since the immunity only applies while they are in session?

EricLarsen
EricLarsen

They will stop issuing them...  What's stopping the Congresscritters from keeping and using the ones they have, or just printing new ones?  All they are is a piece of paper with a law printed on them.  It's a pointless gesture, except for the publicity it generates for this issue.


Actually, I see a few commenters have noted that they were unaware of this issue, so at least there is that.

DavidFoureyes
DavidFoureyes topcommenter

Good work. Now do some real work and help get the law off the books.

Tamara Brown Legler
Tamara Brown Legler

I totally get it, Steve, but it HAS become a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card on so many levels. They'll have to find another way to deal with fair play...

Patrick Moinichen
Patrick Moinichen

I don't get why they get money daily to eat. We pay them to work and we have to feed them also? Wtf....

Shawn Linders
Shawn Linders

What an informative article - Thanks for posting Noah. I am surprised and disillusioned with the fact that this bill is being so actively opposed by certain (entitled) legislators - apparently it has now been tabled by the Senate Judiciary Committee. This would be a good topic for the television program "60 Minutes" - I bet that would help encourage some of the opposing legislators to do the right thing...

Kirk Burback
Kirk Burback

SOS does not have the power to change the law and is not changing the law. He simply is not printing the cards anymore. Notice how he did this AFTER the session has ended.

Dave Salmonson
Dave Salmonson

Getting out oh DUIs because of this was just stupid.

Cynthia Sjodin
Cynthia Sjodin

Good job, Mark Ritchie! We can always count on you to do what's sensible & right. Glad you're there.

Jamie Larson
Jamie Larson

Somewhat misleading headline - they will stop printing the cards, but the law remains.

Brian Mazur
Brian Mazur

that would explain why Gov. Dayton has been pandering to law enforcement, now he can use them to keep legislators who would vote against him away from their session

John Quast
John Quast

While I strongly oppose the idea of legislative immunity, I'm equally opposed to the Secretary of State simply declaring that he will no longer honor a provision of the state Constitution (law) that he disagrees with. Not only does this violate the rule of law, but it lets the legislature off the hook to deal with this issue themselves.

Steve Gansen
Steve Gansen

Changing this sounds nice, but it is meant to protect lawmakers during session from the opposing party using a power advantage to "bully" them into submission with low-level criminal accusations that they would have to answer. You know, using the law to intimidate. (Sarcasm alert) Of course, we live in such civil times that no party would ever think to do such a thing.

Grant Cartee
Grant Cartee

Just says they will stop issuing cards, doesn't say they're changing the law- lame.

Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane

Finally. Probably still won't matter. They're all scratching each others backs.

mingtran
mingtran topcommenter

Stops issuing cards, amendment still remains on books. Got it. Stupid people in numbers are the most terrifying thing known to man.

Sara Ball
Sara Ball

About damn time! You should not be above the law if you make the law!

calistair
calistair

@TBraunTHG @atrupar @BenjaminKruse He is not circumventing the constitution. Nowhere in the constitution or in any Minnesota law is there a statutory requirement for the SOS or any other office to issue these cards. The law hasn't changed at all. 

As a side note, this is saving the taxpayers some expenses: 

• Supplies to create the cards

  • paper, ink, laminate


• Labor required to create and distribute the cards

• Maintenance, wear and tear on the equipment for card production


mingtran
mingtran topcommenter

They are still above the law, just not as visibly.

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