Monday, March 19, 2012

Minnesota Politicians and Drunk Driving

Minnesota is considering legislation that would allow their state's politicians to be arrested for drunk driving. From FOX News:
The Minnesota Legislature is expected to vote this week to rescind a get-out-of-jail-free card for state lawmakers who are arrested for drunken driving.

The provision, found in the state constitution, allows lawmakers "privilege from arrest" when they are pulled over by police. According to Article IV, Section 10, of the Minnesota Constitution, "the 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."

"Back in the 1800s, when our Founding Fathers wrote the constitution, there was a natural fear of political retribution for certain votes and freedoms of speech, that our Founding Fathers wrote this in our constitution for that purpose," said Concordia University political science professor Jayne Jones.

Jones, who has been leading her class through the process as it pushes the Legislature to act, first approached the topic after state Rep. Mark Buesgens was captured on a police dashcam in September 2010 taking a sobriety test. That was three years after state Senate President Jim Metzen received a driving while impaired citation in South St. Paul hours after gaveling the session to a close.

I am normally a very strong believer in immunity for lawmakers. I do not want my legislator arrested or detained and forced to miss a vote on an important bill, especially if the detainment or arrest is politically motivated. However, there are two important differences with this issue. First, drunk driving is a serious matter that can kill others. If I were a lawmaker, I would not want to face the family of a constituent who was killed by a drunk-driving legislator and know that I cast a vote against a bill that might have prevented that accident. Second, if a lawmaker is impaired by alcohol to the point that it affects his or her driving, do we really want that person voting on bills? Perhaps it was "drunk legislating" and "drunk voting" that got us ObamaCare and the CFPB.

I am not familiar with the specifics of the Minnesota bill, and I would definitely want protections enacted in order to ensure that it cannot be abused for political purposes. One such restriction would be a requirement that a breathalyzer test be above the legal limit. However, with the proper limitations, this is a sensible bill that will protect the people of Minnesota.

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