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Editorial: Abolish lawmakers’ so-called ‘legislative immunity’

This file photo from March 27, 2018, law enforcement body camera video from the La Paz County Sheriff's Office shows Arizona state Rep. Paul Mosley during a traffic stop outside Parker. (La Paz County Sheriff's Office/KLPZ/ParkerLiveOnline via AP, File)

This file photo from March 27, 2018, law enforcement body camera video from the La Paz County Sheriff's Office shows Arizona state Rep. Paul Mosley during a traffic stop outside Parker. (La Paz County Sheriff's Office/KLPZ/ParkerLiveOnline via AP, File)

The question is whether our lawmakers deserve or need “legislative immunity.”

The poster child for this debate is Paul Mosley, who was a Republican from Lake Havasu City in the House of Representatives this past year. He claimed legislative immunity when he was stopped for speeding. The deputy has videotape of Mosley claiming he has driven as fast as 140 mph because his legislative immunity allows him to do that.

Fast-forward to Monday, Jan. 14, when Gov. Doug Ducey — in his State of the State speech — referred to the provision as “legislative immunity.” He said one reason people hold members of Congress in contempt is that they exempt themselves from many of the laws they pass.

“Let’s show the people of Arizona that their elected leaders will live under the same laws as every man and woman in this state,” the governor said.

Well, the governor is suffering from backlash.

While people such as Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, support his call to remove the protection, others — including House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez and Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, the latter of which has been at the Capitol longer than anyone else — say there are legitimate reasons that lawmakers need protections from being arrested in certain circumstances.

The crux of the argument is what the state constitution actually says: Lawmakers cannot be arrested during the legislative session or in the 15 days leading up to the session unless they are charged with treason, a felony or “breach of the peace.”

Apparently, way back when, the whole idea of protection was to keep a police officer or sheriff’s deputy from detaining one or two lawmakers whose votes were needed. Supporters say that does not happen anymore.

The key words we see are “charged with treason, a felony or ‘breach of the peace.’” Speeding at 140 mph is a felony. There should have been no question.

As for lawmakers’ contention that the few of them who have abused the immunity have paid the price (Mosley was not re-elected), we don’t see it that way.

As Fann told Capitol Media Services: “We’re no better than any of our constituents. … it’s about time we got rid of all that,” she said referring to legislative immunity.

Consider this like the watchdog function of the newspaper: We are watching, ladies and gentlemen.

Repeal the provision of so-called legislative immunity. Fly right, and you shouldn’t have any problems.

Past immunity claims

Some Arizona legislators have claimed “legislative immunity” protection in the past, including:

• Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, was stopped for drunk driving in December 2018; he gave police his House ID card rather than his driver’s license. While there is no indication that Cook claimed he could not be arrested, he later apologized. Cook also lost a chairmanship as a result.

• Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, in 2012 claimed legislative immunity to avoid facing charges of domestic violence. He ended up resigning as it appeared his colleagues were going to oust him.

• Sen. Scott Bundgaard, R-Glendale, in 2011 was seen by police fighting physically with his girlfriend alongside a Phoenix freeway. When police sought to arrest both, he claimed legislative immunity from arrest, allowing him to avoid jail while his companion was locked up for 14 hours.

• Former Gov. Jan Brewer, when she was a state lawmaker, escaped being charged with drunk driving in 1988 after the vehicle she was driving rear-ended a van on the freeway. Police reports state she failed the field sobriety test, but was not given a breath test after a DPS officer concluded she was entitled to immunity.

• State Rep. Phil Hubbard, D-Tucson, in 1995 argued he was entitled not to be ticketed for driving 14 mph over the speed limit on Interstate 10 because he was going to a legislative hearing.

• And eight years earlier, then-Rep. Bill English, R-Sierra Vista, was arrested on a charge of DUI. English initially claimed immunity but eventually dropped that defense, was convicted, and paid a $373 fine.

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