No more get-out-of-jail-free cards for Minnesota legislators

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D) is robbing state lawmakers of a cherished perk long used to get them out of sticky situations: A card that allows legislators to avoid arrest while the state House or Senate are in session.

Under the state constitution, lawmakers cannot be detained except in cases of treason, felony or breach of the peace. The wallet-sized card has been used to get lawmakers out of drunken driving charges and other arrests, the Star-Tribune said.

The cards don’t allow lawmakers to avoid being charged with a crime, but they cannot be detained unless charged with a felony.

Ritchie says there’s no law on the books that requires his office to provide lawmakers with the card, so he said he will stop issuing them.

A bill to end the practice passed the state House this year, but similar legislation stalled in the Senate. The House measure would clarify the constitutional language by declaring gross misdemeanors — such as drunken driving — or misdemeanor breaches of the peace.

Ritchie said he decided to take action after the bill stalled in the Senate, and state Attorney General Lori Swanson (D) is backing a ballot initiative that would clarify the provision.

State Rep. Ryan Winkler (D) — who sponsored the House bill — said ending the immunity cards would be an important step that would help legislators. “The only thing it could do is help them, by preventing them from making a fool of themselves by trying to use it,” he said.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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