‘Dirty little secret’: Lawmaker wants to eliminate legislative immunity

Proposed amendment would eliminate elements of legislative immunity from Kansas Constitution
Proposed amendment would eliminate elements of legislative immunity from Kansas Constitution(WIBW-TV)
Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 1:29 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A Wichita legislator calls it the Kansas legislature’s “dirty little secret”: legislative immunity.

Rep. John Carmichael, (D) Wichita, appeared before the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs committee today to request that they accept his proposed amendment to the Kansas State Consitution. Representative John Carmichael presented 2021 R.S. 1842, “a proposal to amend Section 22 of Article 2 of the Constitution of the State of Kansas [page 9] relating to legislative immunity from arrest and civil service process.”

Committee Chairman Barker asked Carmichael how long his bill is, and the representative replied that it is just 1.5 pages long. The chairman told Carmichael that they would accept his legislation for consideration.

“We have a dirty little secret up here,” Carmichael told 13 News on a Zoom call from the Kansas Statehouse. “And that is legislators speed up and down the turnpike and up and down I-70 all the time.”

The proposed constitutional amendment would strike a section of the Kansas Consitution that reads: “No member of the legislature shall be subject to arrest except for treason, felony or breach of the peace--in going to, returning from, the place of meeting, or during the continuance of the session; neither shall he be subject to the service of any civil process during the session, nor for fifteen days previous to its commencement.”

The legislation is explained in this way: “The purpose of this amendment is to remove the provision of law allowing legislators to have immunity from being arrest or from being served with civil process.”

The Kansas constitution provides for legislative immunity while the legislature is in session and fifteen days before as they prepare. While they cannot be arrested for certain things while the legislature is in session, they can be arrested and/or charged once the session ends. However, Carmichael notes that some prosecutors have chosen not to charge some legislators, including some cases involving DUI’s, at a later date.

Wichita Representative John Carmichael says there was a reason for it back when the state’s constitution was first written in 1851. He tells 13 News it prevented pro-slavery sheriffs from arresting or detaining abolitionist lawmakers on their way to the state capitol but is now used as an excuse to break the law. The rep from Wichita says fellow legislators basically use legislative immunity to speed up and down the turnpike. He claims some of them even place stickers in their back windows to identify themselves as legislators to prevent troopers from pulling them over in the first place.

Carmichael made it clear that he began considering this legislation long before Senator Gene Suellentrop was arrested for DUI and evading law enforcement last week. Suellentrop was released and has not been charged with any crime. A KHP investigation is underway, and a report is expected by week’s end.

Tuesday morning Carmichael’s proposed amendment was accepted by the chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee for consideration. The rep says he doesn’t think it will go anywhere this session. However, he says it will be back next year. He encourages Kansans to contact their legislators about the bill.

Representative Carmichael says legislators aren’t special, and he believes they should be expected to abide by the very same laws they help write.

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