Forgive us as we go out on a limb and say that legislators caught speeding should pay the consequences. Yes, that’s a joke, because lawmakers themselves agree.
So why isn’t this the law?
To recap an article in Monday’s paper, the Washington State Patrol’s official position is to give speeding lawmakers a pass during legislative sessions. Doesn’t matter whether the lawmaker is driving in Olympia or Odessa. Doesn’t matter why they’re breaking the law, like, say, failing to give themselves enough time to arrive on time.
You’re a lawmaker? Then, off you go!
The State Patrol, and other law enforcement agencies, say the right to speed is embedded in the state Constitution. Hmm … so a document written during the summer of 1889 envisioned tardy motorists who were needed for vital votes? Well, that’s the widespread interpretation of Article II, Section 16, which says that during the session – and 15 days prior – lawmakers “shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony and breach of the peace.”
Up until 1981, speeding was a criminal offense, but since then the state has punished the act with civil fines. Criminal acts, such as driving drunk, aren’t exempted, but speeding is.
The appearance of this favoritism has caused some legislators to keep mum about their office when pulled over, according to the Tacoma News Tribune article.
State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, told the newspaper, “If you’re an elected official and you’re ever involved with law enforcement, it’s only going to create more problems for you if you say, ‘Hey, I’m a member of the House,’ or ‘I’m a state senator,’ ” Jinkins said.
This is the correct instinct, and it should be codified into law.
After the News Tribune article appeared, several lawmakers said they have been ticketed. Some said they were unaware of the exemption. It seems not all law enforcement agencies have the same interpretation of the state Constitution. Said Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, “I could have saved myself a couple tickets and a lot of money on insurance.”
Yes, he could have. Unlike the general public.
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said he was once pulled over and he requested a ticket, but the trooper wouldn’t write one. Hunter then introduced a bill in 2005 that would’ve ended the exemption, but it never got a hearing. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, used to be a judge and he chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee. His view is that lawmakers should be ticketed.
So how is it that an absurd exemption that seemingly has no legislative defenders still exists? The only way to find out is to re-run Hunter’s bill and speed it through to the governor’s desk. If it gets pulled over, we’ll have our culprits.
We doubt anyone would crawl out on that limb.