Ritchie scraps immunity cards for lawmakers

Secretary State Mark Ritchie said today that his office will no longer print or distribute cards that some say legislators could use to avoid being arrested.

Ritchie sent a letter to lawmakers notifying them of the decision. He also notified state and local law enforcement agencies.

“We are discontinuing the cards given the lack of a statutory requirement for our office to issue them,” Ritchie wrote.

The legislative privilege cards were highlighted during this year’s unsuccessful attempt to specifically rescind lawmakers’ immunity from arrest for drunk driving.

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Article 4, Section 10 of the Minnesota Constitution spells out the privilege:

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.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, sponsored the bill to rescind the DWI immunity. Winkler said Ritchie took an important step.

“I think that the secretary is recognizing that it is confusing,” Winkler said. “This language in the constitution is a vestige of past understandings of legislative immunity that are no longer valid today, and that by continuing to issue the cards we continue to perpetuate that confusion.”

The bill passed overwhelming in the House, but the Senate did not take a vote.  Opponents there said the law already allows police to arrest legislators. Winkler said he will push the issue again next session.