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Home » Archives » October 2013 » Bill To Eliminate Traffic Ticket Exemptions For State Legislators

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10/31/2013: "Bill To Eliminate Traffic Ticket Exemptions For State Legislators"

ig_S_WSP_Car-001 (63k image)
(Rep. Dave Hayes webpage photo)

Rep. Dave Hayes believes state legislators should get a traffic ticket just like anyone else if they speed or break Washington’s traffic laws, regardless of whether the Legislature is in session. The 10th District lawmaker, who also works as a patrol sergeant with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, has drafted a measure that would clarify the authority of law enforcement officers to issue tickets to state lawmakers during a legislative session.

“Elected officials who make the laws should not be excluded from the laws they make,” said Hayes, R-Camano Island. “If you’re a legislator who is speeding and gets stopped, the bill I am proposing says you would no longer be exempt from receiving a noncriminal traffic ticket.”

“This is a law that was written back when lawmakers traveled for days across the state to reach the Capitol, sometimes on horseback, and it was intended to prevent them from being obstructed from their participation in the Legislature. But that was more than a century ago, “ said Hayes, assistant ranking Republican on the House Public Safety Committee.

Although many lawmakers know about the free pass, it gained widespread public attention from a Sept. 15 article in The News Tribune, headlined, “Does state law forgive legislators’ speeding?”

The article reported that the Washington State Patrol (WSP) and some other law enforcement agencies -but not all- will not issue tickets for moving violations to Washington lawmakers during a legislative session, as well as 15 days before.

WSP cites a provision in Washington’s constitution, enacted in 1889, which reads: “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 15 days next before the commencement of each session.”

“In recent times, there’s been confusion as to how the law should be applied and whether simply being issued a noncriminal traffic ticket for an infraction should be considered ‘civil process.’ My bill says that the issuance of a traffic citation to a legislator is not civil process under the state constitution. That should help clarify that state lawmakers who violate traffic laws may receive a ticket.”

Hayes noted that court appearances or other hearings related to disposition of a traffic citation received by a state legislator may not be scheduled during a legislative session. To change that section of the law, he said, would require a constitutional amendment with a two-thirds majority vote of the House and Senate and a simple majority of Washington’s voters.

“While some may see that as a perk, it was written into the state constitution to prevent political gamesmanship, such as compelling a court hearing against a lawmaker whose absence at just the right time would provide an advantage to one side during a vote,” added Hayes.

Hayes pointed out that “It’s important to note that legislators summoned to court cannot escape those hearings. It’s just that the hearings cannot be scheduled during a legislative session.”

The measure will be introduced during the pre-filing period which opens Dec. 2, six weeks prior to the next regular legislative session which begins Jan. 13, 2014.

“No one should be above the law. As state lawmakers, we should conduct ourselves in a lawful manner, just as we expect other citizens to do. And we should be held accountable, just like other citizens, when laws are broken. That’s what my bill would do,” said Hayes.

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