Legislators using strange logic in ongoing effort to kill bill stripping them of DWI immunity
"And here it is. The Get Out of Jail Card," MNGOP Rep. Tony Cornish wrote on Facebook. "On the other side is the name of the Legislator and the expiration date, which is the end of your term."
A bill written by a group of Concordia University students that would strip legislators of DWI immunity appeared to be dead in the House earlier this month, but was revived after Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, publicly threw his support behind it. It cleared the House Civil Law Committee on Friday and has been sent to the floor for a vote.
But the same can't be said in the Senate, where the bill has been tabled by the Judiciary Committee.
The bill's chief author in the Senate is Judiciary Committee member Kathy Sheran, D-Mankato. She told us over the weekend that while she thinks it's very unlikely the bill will make it out of Judiciary and reach the Senate floor, she hopes to attach DWI immunity reform to another bill as an amendment.
Sen. Kathy Sheran
Sheran also detailed the strange logic used by her colleagues who are opposed to the measure.
"Most of all those who voted to table it were concerned about the lack of evidence that there is a problem," Sheran says. "They don't want to suggest public officials are [driving drunk] without evidence."
But the issue with that line of thinking is that if a legislator is pulled over for DWI and uses their "get out of jail card," there will be no record of an arrest taking place. So what sort of evidence do opponents expect to see?
Jayne Jones, the Concordia professor helping students with their effort, told us she's similarly baffled.
"I don't understand why they're so protective of [the immunity cards]," Jones says. "If it's not used, why have it in law? I don't get that part."
The issue cuts across partisan lines. On Saturday, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder -- perhaps best known as the legislature's most colorful gun rights supporter -- posted this Facebook status in favor of the students' bill:
Cornish's post resulted in an interesting exchange with a man who says he made the controversial "get out of jail free" cards for the state.
(For more, click to page two.)
Asked to explain why some of her colleagues are opposed to a common sense bill that has overwhelming public support, Sheran says "there's two different viewpoints" on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"There's mine, which is whether there's a problem or not, the law is about clarifying explicitly what the expectation is for everybody's behavior, what's okay and what's not okay," she says. "And that's not suggesting anybody is doing anything wrong, it's simply being explicit that you can't use your card to get out of a DWI arrest during session."
"But there are others who say you should only write laws when there is a problem and you can fix it with a law," Sheran continues. "Those who are opposed are using that frame of reference."
Asked how often she thinks her colleagues actually use their immunity card to get out of DWI arrests, Sheran replied, "I don't have any sense of that at all."
"I just know the data that the students presented showed there were DWI arrests outside of session but none during session," Sheran says. "That's inconclusive but highly suggestive."
But ultimately, Sheran says the bill is about common sense, not evidence.
"There is a problem: The general public believes there is a privilege that should not be there," she says. "Legislators should be held accountable for DWI whether they're in session or not."
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