Lawmakers in Washington state can’t be given a speeding ticket.
As a myth, it’s not as big as sasquatch (nor as hairy), but it’s nevertheless intriguing. And it turns out to be true (and blurry photographs weren’t needed to prove it).
Melissa Santos of The Tacoma News Tribune found lawmakers are exempt from being cited when the Legislature is in session.
The Washington State Patrol troopers are aware of it and don’t issue tickets to lawmakers during legislative sessions even if the incident is far from Olympia — anyplace from Bellingham to Walla Walla.
The state constitution says “Members of the legislature shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony and breach of the peace; they shall not be subject to any civil process during the session of the legislature, nor for fifteen days next before the commencement of each session.”
Wow. It’s a head-scratcher as well as an eye-roller.
“As soon as we find out they are a legislator, if they choose to tell us, then we need to get them on their way as soon as possible,” said Bob Calkins, the WSP’s spokesman.
The original intent was to ensure legislators are not purposely detained from voting on legislation. The provision did not pertain specifically to driving when written, but any travel. The term “civil process” was much later interpreted by the Attorney General’s Office to include traffic citations.
It makes no sense today with our instant communication. The provision is a relic of the past.
Yet, lawmakers have not taken action to take the provision out of the constitution despite being given the opportunity.
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, told Santos he was stopped for speeding during his first term in the House, and a state trooper refused to issue him a ticket even after he asked for a citation.
“I was going 71 miles per hour in Fife on the freeway,” Hunter said. “I should have gotten a ticket.”
After that, Hunter introduced a bill in the House that would have clarified state law so legislators could still receive traffic tickets year-round. The 2005 bill didn’t receive a hearing.
Why? Is it because lawmakers enjoy having the privilege on the books because it makes them feel special?
Whatever the reason, it would be wise to tweak the constitution to eliminate the provision.
Not only is it unnecessary, it send the message lawmakers are above the law.
They shouldn’t be.