Concordia Students Seek To Change ‘Legislator Immunity’

ST. PAUL (WCCO) — A group of college students is taking on what they see as a loophole in the state constitution. It’s referred to as “legislator immunity,” and essentially protects lawmakers from arrest during the legislative session.

In the halls of the State Capitol, Coy Smith and his fellow classmates get a real life lesson in the legislative process.

“It’s obviously a class and we’re getting a grade, but it’s more than that for us,” said Coy Smith, a sophomore at Concordia University.

Each week, the government class from Concordia University meets with lawmakers to try to win support for a new bill.

Their effort centers around a card given to every lawmaker.

“We all get that card at the beginning of session. I don’t even remember I have it,” said Rep. John Kriesel, a republican lawmaker from Cottage Grove.

The concern is that some lawmakers may be abusing this privilege, seeing it as a get out of jail free card.

It essentially exempts legislators from most offenses during a legislative session, including impaired driving.
Article 4, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution touches on privilege from arrest: “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. For any speech or debate in either house they shall not be questioned in any other place.”

“Troubling. I think I’m stunned by it,” said Jayne Jones, professor at Concordia University.

Now, the class wants drunk driving included in the constitutional language.

“Why should legislators have this so-called right that nobody else has?” Jones asked.

The students aren’t pushing for an amendment to the Constitution, which can be a lengthy and expensive process. Instead, they want to change the definition of “breach of peace” in the Constitution. The new definition would include impaired driving.

“Whether you’re in Congress, State Legislature, county, city, you’re not above the law and I hope this clarifies that,” said State Sen. Mark Parry.

The bill was introduced in both the house and senate. Its authors expect bipartisan support.

“It would be hard for people to vote against this,” said Kriesel.

New legislation would likely mean an A for Smith and his classmates, but what they’re working towards is worth far more than any grade.

“We want it to be a chance to make a difference,” said Smith.

The students have their first House committee hearing Thursday.

They’re concerned about getting this bill approved before the session is over. It still needs to go through more committee hearings, be approved by the full house and senate, and signed by the governor.

More from Rachel Slavik
  • G Dog

    If Legislators are going to target public employees and deny them their Constitutional rights to due process, then the Legislature should be held to a higher standard and be suspended without pay and access to vote on state issues as well as violations of ethics if they are only accused.

    Throw Amy Koch in jail for boinking her aide in violation of Legislative rules. Throw Tom Hackbarth in the clink for stalking a female while packing a gun. Throw the Republicans who used state money to print brochures supporting their party at state expense in the caucuses into the general population at Stillwater.

    After all, the GOP is for law and order.

  • James M. Seidel

    1995 MN Legislators passed Legislation that allows Workman’s Compensation to use Social Security as an offset. I was never warned by my two separate lawyers or the two separate judges at the hearings. 32 years of working for Social Security Wages that are now handed over to an insurance company with plenty of lawyers to grease the palms of the MN Legislature with money for their re-election war chests.

  • Ted

    Hey, Rachel I believe that’s Mike Parry, not Mark Parry… I’m just sayin’

  • Dale Gribble

    Communists at work!!! The sole reason for this is to persecute God-fearing White Christian Legislators and promote the DFL agenda of atheistic socialism.

    • wake up

      @Dale Read the article. It says it has bipartisan support which means the holier than thou Republicans are supporting something that makes sense. Who would have thought????

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