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Al Edenloff, Forum News Service, Published March 18 2014

Concordia-St. Paul students trying to strike section of state constitution that allows legislators to drive drunk

ST. PAUL – A group of college students is seeking to close a loophole that allows state legislators to drive drunk in some circumstances.

The eight political science students from Concordia University in St. Paul are trying to pass the Legislator Immunity Act of 2014.

The legislation cleared a hurdle last week when it was referred to the House public safety committee on an 11-2 vote. It’s scheduled for another House hearing Thursday.

The legislation was researched and drafted by the students, who are giving up their weeklong spring break to testify at the Minnesota Capitol.

The Minnesota Constitution, Article 4 Section 10, allows for sitting legislators to be exempt from arrest during the legislative session, unless it’s for breach of peace, treason or a felony. It’s believed that the protection was originally created to prevent political leaders from having members of a rival party arrested before key votes were taken.

According to the students, this is an age-old perk at the Capitol, and its time has run out.

“Legislator immunity was created by our founding forefathers, and we believe its purpose is historic, but not for allowing legislators to get behind the wheel and drive drunk,” the students said.

The students’ legislation would classify drunk driving as a breach of peace.

They testified that there have been long-standing jokes around the Capitol about legislators’ equivalent of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

“We don’t find any of (the jokes) funny,” the students said. “In fact, we find it pretty shocking that current legislators we have spoken to about this privilege have told us, ‘I would rather have a legislator drive drunk than miss a vote!’”

According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, every 90 seconds a person is injured in a drunken driving crash, the students noted.

The Legislator Immunity Act would not only penalize legislators for drinking and driving, but also help ensure that every Minnesotan is held to the same standard, the students said.

“Driving safe should be everyone’s responsibility, including our state legislators,” the students said.

The students said the majority of legislators would never think of using this outdated privilege and support the legislation.

One of the students, Hope Baker, said state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, fully supports the proposal.

The House bill is chiefly authored by Rep. Ryan Winkler and co-authored by Reps. Nena Moran, Linda Slocum, Zachary Dorholt, Tony Cornish, Mike Freiberg and Steve Drazkowski.

In the Senate, the companion bill is chiefly authored by Sen. Kathy Sherran and co-authored by Ingebrigtsen and Greg Clausen.

About the students

The eight Concordia University political science students and their professor say they are fired up for the 2014 legislative session. Over the past few sessions, the students have made an impact with influencing, drafting and passing legislation aimed at improving lives in Minnesota. They have focused on one legislative project per session. This year, the group is pursuing six bills. Their work has been nationally recognized by such leaders as Vice President Joe Biden, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and many state legislators.

College students lobby to close drunk driving loophole for legislators