Lawmaker wants to end exemption from speeding tickets

A state lawmaker wants to make sure he and his co-workers have to pay if they are stopped for speeding.

It’s a perk of the job that The News Tribune reported on last month. The Washington State Patrol and at least one police department, in Tacoma, said they don’t ticket lawmakers during and right before a legislative session.

State Rep. Dave Hayes announced Friday that he has written a proposal to “clarify” that a traffic ticket isn’t the kind of civil process described in the constitution. The freshman Republican from Camano Island works as a patrol sergeant at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office when not in the Legislature.

“Elected officials who make the laws should not be excluded from the laws they make,” Hayes said in a statement. “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.”

The ticketing exemption is how some law enforcement agencies interpret the state constitution, which says lawmakers “shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony and breach of the peace,” and that they “shall not be subject to any civil process” during the session and for 15 days before it.

Hayes said that even if his bill passed into law, court appearances related to lawmakers’ speeding tickets still would have to be postponed until after a legislative session. That’s meant to keep lawmakers from being compelled to attend court during a key vote, he said, and changing it would require a constitutional amendment.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said a change is unnecessary.

Carlyle noted that the concept of keeping lawmakers from being detained during a vote can be traced back to the framers of the U.S. Constitution, and he argued there’s no evidence it’s being abused in Washington.

“Any legislator who would invoke this provision on the street — literally and figuratively — without due and legitimate cause would be both a fool and a short-termer,” he said in an email, “which is probably for the best anyway.”

Lawmakers can’t consider Hayes’ proposal until the 2014 session starts Jan. 13.