Op-ed pick: Legislators get a pass on DUI charges

It’s not an op-ed, exactly, but Jon Tevlin’s column in the Sunday Star Tribune deserves attention. He took note of a Concordia University class project to correct an eye-popping wrong: When the Minnesota Legislature is in session, legislators enjoy immunity from arrest for driving drunk.

They have immunity for other infractions, too, Tevlin explains:

Currently, the Minnesota Constitution gives legislators what amounts to a “get-out-of-jail-free” card during the session, allowing them “legislative immunity” from arrest in all cases except “treason, felony and breach of the peace.”

The Concordia students have crafted a bill that would add drunken driving to the list of exceptions. Tevlin rhetorically asks, “What kind of dope would oppose that?”

“We have had legislators tell us ‘I would rather have them drive drunk than miss a vote,’ and ‘I love my card,’ ” [student Hope] Baker said, incredulously.

“I had a committee member tell me last week that he knew of someone who used their [immunity] card in a suburb two weeks before that, and justified it by saying there were not cab services in the area,” Baker added.

The students checked, and there were several cab companies serving the area.

The class has been unable to find out how often legislators have used their privilege, although it has found records of arrests made when the Legislature was not in session and its members therefore governed by the same laws that apply to everyone else.

Tevlin concludes his column with a promise to help shine a light on the class project and the reception it gets:

Stay tuned. If the students’ attempt to hold lawmakers accountable to drunken driving laws fails, we will be eager to name all those who got in the way in a future column.

(Note to law enforcement: If you know of legislators using the card during traffic stops, call or write to me.)

Tevlin’s email is jtevlin@startribune.com, and his phone number is 612-673-1702. Read the whole column here.