Leaders consider ending lawmaker immunity law

Published 10:11 am Friday, April 11, 2014

ST. PAUL — A college project that alleged some state lawmakers might have used immunity to avoid drunken-driving arrests has sparked debate in Minnesota over whether to scrap a more than 150-year-old protection similar to those still on the books for Congress and most state legislatures.

At issue is a provision in the Minnesota Constitution from 1858 that was meant to protect legislators against being arrested to prevent them from voting on important measures. The state House voted 115-13 late Wednesday to lift the immunity despite arguments that no change is needed, and a state senator is trying to find a way to bring a similar proposal up for a vote in her chamber.

There is arrest immunity language in the U.S. Constitution and 44 other state constitutions, said Brenda Erickson, senior research analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures. There have been unsuccessful attempts to repeal the privilege in Arizona, including one drive that began in 2012 when a senator avoided arrest after getting into a fight with his girlfriend on a Phoenix freeway.

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