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home : opinion : opinion July 22, 2017

4/15/2014 1:12:00 PM
Editorial Sober up state's solons

Minnesota's constitution gives state legislators a free pass to drive drunk during legislative sessions. While there have been cases in other states where state courts have found driving drunk is not protected action, that is not the case in Minnesota, so an effort is underway to exclude driving under the influence as one of the acts protected under Article IV, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution. Students from Concordia College have proposed a bill to accomplish this goal and deserve support from our legislators and from us.

Article IV, Section 10 reads: "Privilege from arrest. 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. For any speech or debate in either house they shall not be questioned in any other place."

This provision in law is meant to protect legislators from being hauled off under color-of-law to prevent them from arguing or voting during session. When it was written into law, there were no cars or trucks or highways upon which to drive them in Minnesota. Today, the law is outdated.

People have reported that legislators have bragged it was okay for them to drive because of their protected status even when they were obviously so drunk they could barely walk. Some student interns have said they felt forced to ride with legislators who were drunk and refused to let the interns drive, saying there was nothing to worry about because they couldn't be arrested.

While it is possible a law enforcement officer might be able to arrest a legislator who is driving drunk and get the state courts to find that Article IV, Section 10 does not provide protection, that is unlikely to happen. Few law enforcement officers are likely to take a chance on such an outcome and are more likely to continue to handle legislators with kid gloves rather than risk a blemish on their own careers.

Changing state law to define driving under the influence as a breach of the peace would remove any question about whether a legislator could be arrested and convicted for driving drunk or drugged.

Such a change might also result in improvements in the operation of the Minnesota House of Representatives and the Minnesota Senate, as both bodies often conduct business after hours and after members have had an opportunity to get wasted, if they are so inclined.

Elected officials should make a real effort to set an example of responsible citizenship and conduct themselves in a manner that reflects well the character of the people they represent and with whose authority they have been entrusted. Too often some elected officials seem to think they are above the laws they have created.

Elected officials also have responsibility to behave in a responsible manner with student interns working with them in St. Paul. They should not be subjecting them to the risks of choosing between riding with a drunk or possibly losing their position.

We should be able to get a pretty good read on which of our legislators are among the few who believe they are entitled to drive drunk by watching how our representatives vote on this issue in committees and when the bill comes up for a vote in the house and senate, provided it makes it through the committee process and a vote is allowed.

It is time this antiquated practice is discontinued. There is no good reason for allowing legislators to drive drunk with impunity. If you agree, I hope you will contact your state respresentatives and state senators to tell them to support legislation to end immunity for driving under the influence.

Larry Dobson

Claremont Service

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