Arizona

Arizona's Governor Wants to Reform Legislative Immunity

The move comes after a state rep used it to get out of a speeding ticket.

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|||Michael Brochstein/ZUMA Press/Newscom
Michael Brochstein/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is fighting to reform "legislative immunity" in his state, thanks to a scandal involving a member of the state legislature.

As Reason reported a few weeks ago, a body camera video surfaced showing state Rep. Paul Mosley (R–Lake Havasu City) talking with a deputy who had pulled him over. Mosley had been driving 97 mph in a 55 mph zone. In the video, the legislator declares that he can't be penalized because of his "immunity as a government official." He also brags, "Well, I was doing 120 earlier."

The video shows the deputy giving Mosley his driver's license, but not a speeding ticket. A search of traffic violations by the Associated Press appears to confirm that Mosley did not receive a ticket that day.

Gov. Ducey, a Republican, has now signed an executive order clarifying that lawmakers are not exempt from the repercussiosn of speeding. He tweeted yesterday that there is "bipartisan support" for reforming the legislative immunity provision in state law. And indeed, many Arizona Democrats fought to repeal legislative immunity in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, going back to when then–state Sen. Scott Bundgaard (R-Peoria) attempted to use his immunity after getting into a fight with his girlfriend.

The immunity in question is established in Article 4, Part 2, Section 6 of the Arizona Constitution. It currently states, "Members of the legislature shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony, and breach of the peace, and 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." As Reason's J.D. Tuccille has argued, the legitimate purposes of legislative immunity have since evolved into a "get out of jail free" card for politicians with less-than-legal personal habits:

What's unfortunate here is that lawmakers historically granted themselves such immunity to protect against politically motivated arrests by the king, or governor, or whoever might try to lock lawmakers away to affect the outcome of a vote. These immunity provisions were legitimate protections against real abuses—or, originally they were, anyway. Too bad they've degenerated into a comfy privilege for lead-foot legislators with drinking problems.

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  1. the legitimate purposes of legislative immunity

    Say what? “No person is above the law.”

    1. “I am the law!”

  2. now signed an executive order clarifying that lawmakers are not exempt from the repercussiosn of speeding.

    An executive order “clarifying” a constitutional provision? Sounds ready for a judicial smackdown if challenged.

    1. No smackdown. It’s just non-binding. It’s an order with exactly as much force as a Congressional vote to “admonish” the governor. Such actions have some political impact and can sometimes lead to a legally binding change in the rules. No telling whether this executive order will have any impact in the long run. Ultimately, they will have to amend their constitution to fix it permanently.

      Hmmm… On second thought, there may already be an answer below the level of constitutional amendment. The current clause allows for arrest for felonies and/or for “breach of the peace”. The Legislature could redefine speeding above a certain amount into a felony (but they probably shouldn’t). Maybe better, the Executive could charge this particular legislator with breach of the peace for, well, the prosecutor would have to get creative. But given the outrageous behavior of the legislator in question, that approach might not be completely out of the question.

    2. Yeah. I like the idea…but I am fairly certain this is going to require legislation to enact.

  3. Comfy Privilege for Led-foot Legislators with Drinking Problems

    3 band names in one

  4. Someone’s going to be popular with colleagues.

  5. How does “privileged from arrest” turn into immunity from a speeding ticket? I doubt that the ticket constitutes a “civil process” either.

    1. A speeding ticket could be a criminal violation resulting in arrest even if you are immediately released to your own recognizance. “Arrest” means stopping the person and forbidding them from leaving the immediate area, however briefly that arrest applies. It does not necessarily mean formally taking the person into custody, handcuffing them, etc.

      That’s the exception, though. Most states consider traffic citations to be civil infractions. At least, it’s civil if you only exceed the speed limit by X amount. Over X and it might become a misdemeanor. Over Y and it could even be a felony. I do not know what the exact rules in Arizona are. Whatever they are, though, the AZ constitutional clause is broadly written enough to cover everything short of a felony or the poorly defined “breach of peace”.

      1. That is why the State Constitution includes exemption from “any civil process”
        Joke Arpaio would have a had field day against his enemies with Ducey’s idiotic illegal ruling

  6. What on earth is wrong with Arizona Republicans, I wonder…

    1. Well, they DID elect McCain and Flake. For all of the slams Florida gets for having idiotic weirdos…AZ is pretty rife with them.

  7. “What’s unfortunate here is that lawmakers historically granted themselves such immunity to protect against politically motivated arrests by the king, or governor, or whoever might try to lock lawmakers away to affect the outcome of a vote. These immunity provisions were legitimate protections against real abuses?or, originally they were, anyway.”

    well what need have they of protection from the king or his men, now that they are the kings men?

    1. “King’s men” in context means the Executive Branch – the guys who control the police and prosecutors.

      Imagine, for example, a corrupt governor or police chief who wanted to blackmail or maybe just delay the legislature by arresting the legislators one by one on trivial charges. The check and balance on the Executive is impeachment. But if the Executive can keep arresting legislators, he/she can prevent the Legislature from ever achieving the necessary quorum. While there is little history of such abuse in the US, there are unfortunately ample examples of such abuses in the history of European governments.

      1. I’m not saying it doesn’t have historical precidence. Only under the current suituation, where federal intervention would immediately halt such an occurrence, and in my ignorant opinion practically every governor save those like Gary Johnson, just rubber stamp what the state legislatures push out, even when obviously against the state or federal constitutions. How are those members not like the kings men of old? as such why do they need protection from themselves?

  8. about time any politician anywhere speaks out against the abuse of various forms of government immunity.

  9. With AZ’s history of Law enforcement going after political enemies Ducey needs to stay out of it.
    Cops and more so Sheriffs will start writing up speeding tickets with abandon .
    As usual people want to chase the shiny object . and also make sure they get a “Harumph” out of that guy !
    Ducy’s executive order is unconstitutional.

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