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MN Senate Committee Votes To Change Legislative Immunity

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL (WCCO) — A Minnesota Senate Committee voted Thursday to change a law that’s been in effect for more than 150 years, and it’s one you might not have heard about: It gives lawmakers immunity from arrest during the legislative session.

Except for felonies and treason, Minnesota lawmakers are immune from arrest once the session begins. It’s in the Constitution.

The exemption comes from old English law, after King Charles tried to arrest members of Parliament, and started a civil war. The principle is important, but perception is politics. And supporters are lining up.

Every Minnesota lawmaker gets a card giving them immunity from most crimes during session.

At Concordia University in St. Paul, students were startled to learn this, and they’ve been working to change the law when it comes to DWIs.

State Sen. Mike Parry (R-Waseca), who has never used his immunity card, teamed up with the Concordia students to remove legislative immunity for DWIs committed during a legislative session.

The students testified in the House and Senate, and the bill is moving fast. Both the House and Senate have scheduled votes on the bill, the first change for this law in 150 years.

There are a handful of cases of lawmakers invoking their privilege from arrest. It doesn’t mean they won’t be charged with a crime. They can be charged with the crime after the session ends. That or they must be let out of jail to take votes.

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