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