Secretary of state to stop issuing ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ cards to legislators
By Doug Belden
The issue was raised by Concordia University students seeking to clarify that the “privilege from arrest” section of the state constitution does not allow lawmakers to avoid arrest for drunken driving or other crimes during sessions. The privilege was intended to protect legislators from being prevented from voting.
The issue stalled at the Capitol as lawmakers argued that the wallet-sized ID cards don’t actually prevent arrests. But because of the debate, Secretary Mark Ritchie said he reviewed the laws and determined nothing in statute required his office to issue the cards.
The secretary of state started issuing cards along with a copy of the constitution 40 years ago, Ritchie said, but was not required to do so.
The card itself has no effect on whatever privilege lawmakers have, Ritchie said.
“The card doesn’t change the constitution or any of the judicial rulings that have been in this broad area of the constitution. The card never did change the constitution nor interpret it, and so there’s no change in the status,” he said.
State Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who sponsored a bill this past session that would have made it clear lawmakers are answerable for crimes committed during the session, issued a statement Wednesday calling Ritchie’s move “an important step forward.”
“Legislators, law enforcement and the public should not be confused into thinking that anyone, especially elected officials, are above the law in Minnesota. While it’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to pass a bill in 2014 that would permanently eliminate any questions about legislator immunity, we did raise understanding and awareness of this issue and can work toward a resolution in the next legislative session,” Winkler said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.