Lawmakers’ pass to speed arcane, unjustified rule

September 18, 2013 

FILE - Washington State Patrol Trooper Guy Gill works freeway traffic-speed enforcement near U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 5. (Olympian file, 2012)

STEVE BLOOM — Staff photographer

That speeding vehicle whizzing past you through traffic on the I-5 toward Olympia might have been your state legislator. According to the Washington State Patrol, state lawmakers enjoy constitutional protection from receiving speeding tickets during a legislative session and for the 15 days prior. There is no protection after a session ends.

The law originates from the clever practice of 17th Century English kings who arrested political opponents to prevent them from reaching parliament in time to vote.

Imagine the chaos that would ensure if we didn’t have this law.

Gov. Jay Inslee might have Clark County Sen. Don Benton arrested and detained before he could get to Olympia and scuttle another reasonable transportation revenue package.

State government might have shut down this year if a trooper had delayed a state lawmaker from Eastern Washington last March for the 15 minutes it took to write a ticket on their 4- or 5-hour drive to Olympia. They might have missed the vote on the state budget.

Oh, wait, the budget vote didn’t occur until the end of June.

It is interesting that the law only gives immunity during and before a legislative session. Maybe that explains why Washington endures so many special sessions?

No state legislator will admit to invoking his or her constitutional privilege to speed, but neither are they eager to give it up. Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Media, introduced a bill in 2005 eliminating the free-to-speed law. Naturally, it never got a hearing.

Hunter should try again. This is an archaic law that no longer has a practical or justifiable purpose.

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