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Our view: Arrest lawmakers who drive drunk

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Did Minnesota lawmakers really enjoy immunity from drunken driving and other offenses while in session?

The debate raged in St. Paul these past few weeks with a group of college students researching and arguing that the antiquated law was still on the books and with Sen. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park and others countering that the U.S. Supreme Court decided the issue the other way more than a century ago, “stating unequivocally that the so-called ‘privilege from arrest’ language in the U.S. Constitution, mirrored in the Minnesota Constitution, applies only in cases of civil arrest and not to criminal conduct,” as Latz said in a statement this week.

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The debate can soon be moot. Lawmakers are leaving no doubt that if they’re pulled over for drunken driving or arrested for some other offense they should be locked up and treated the same way as any other criminal. The House voted 115-13 late Wednesday in favor of the so-called “DWI Immunity Bill.” The overwhelming vote left only one question: Just what were the 13 voting in opposition thinking?

“No legislator should have immunity from driving while intoxicated, and this bill makes that fact crystal clear in our laws,” the bill’s author, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said in a statement.

The original purpose for immunity made some sense. In 1858 the state’s founders sought to protect legislators from being arrested and detained as a way of keeping them from casting controversial votes. Today’s modern laws, instantaneous news and technology more effectively prevent such shenanigans. Immunity no longer is needed — assuming it ever was needed and wasn’t just a get-out-of-jail-free card legislators gave themselves to allow wrongdoing; that’s also assuming it wasn’t trumped by the U.S. v. Williamson case of 1908, as Sen. Latz argued.

Everyone can agree now, as the senator said, “Legislators can and should be arrested if they drive drunk.” Such consequence is appropriate and correct whether or not the Legislature is in session.

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