DENVER (AP/CBS4) — A Colorado Republican lawmaker suspected of driving under the influence, whose arrest was spared because of a state law, apologized to her colleagues Monday and said she’s not above the law.
“It’s with a deep sense of pain and remorse that I stand before you today,” Grand Junction Republican Rep. Laura Bradford told House lawmakers from the chamber’s podium. “I am not above the law. I am bound to the same laws and standards as every other citizen.”
The news of Bradford’s traffic stop has garnered attention because Denver police said she may have been driving drunk Wednesday night, but that a state constitutional provision prevented officers from arresting her. That provision, known as “legislative privilege,” is designed to protect lawmakers’ ability to travel to and from the Capitol to cast their votes. The law allows exemptions for treason and felonies.
Bradford’s run-in with police comes as Arizona lawmakers examine their immunity rule. Most states have similar provisions, and the protections have allegedly been used by legislators as a shield against arrests for driving infractions and domestic violence.
Bradford said she was driving her personal car with legislative plates, but denied that she tried to influence officers’ actions by invoking legislative privilege.
“In response to the officer’s inquiries, I stated that I was leaving a legislative function and needed to be at the Capitol the next day,” she said. “I responded to officers’ questions. My statements were not intended to invoke legislative privilege.”
Lawmakers had long adjourned for the day at the time of Bradford’s traffic stop and were not working at the time.
An officer said he could smell alcohol on Bradford’s breath, but instead of detaining her and taking her to the police station for breathalyzer or a blood test, police ticketed her with an illegal lane change and improper turn. Bradford parked her car and took a cab.
Denver Police Lt. Matt Murray said Bradford told police she was a lawmaker leaving a legislative function and needed to be at the Capitol the next day, but she did not specifically invoke legislative immunity. However, he said if police had taken Bradford to the police station and determined she was drunk, she would have been taken to a detox center and could’ve potentially missed legislative work in the morning.
Murray defended his department’s actions, saying officers were following constitutional guidelines that prevent law enforcement from detaining legislators going to and from the Capitol for work. An exemption would be if there was a suspected DUI case involving an accident with injuries, a felony.
Other jurisdictions — Arvada, Boulder, Lakewood, and Jefferson County all read the clause the same. There is already talk of clarifying the Constitution. CBS4 legal analyst Raj Chohan says it has its roots back in 17th century England.
“The whole purpose behind the law is to prevent legislators from being stopped for political reasons,” Chohan said. “You don’t want your lawmakers being stopped by an opposing power of government while they’re on their way to cast a crucial vote in which they might be the swing vote.”
House Republicans on Friday suspended Bradford of her chairmanship of the Local Government Committee. “I am sorry that my actions have cast a shadow on this House and the entire General Assembly,” Bradford said.
Below is a Web Extra video of the entire apology:
Tom Russell, a law professor at the University of Denver, said legislative immunity is intended to protect legislators’ speech at the Capitol from an overzealous governor or law enforcement, not give them a free pass from driving infractions.
“She got a break from Denver police that she certainly wasn’t entitled to,” Russell said.
In Arizona, state Sen. Steve Gallardo has introduced legislation to change the Constitution’s clause on legislative immunity because he believes it’s an unfair and outdated protection for lawmakers. Last year, then-Sen. Scott Bundgaard was put in handcuffs after allegedly getting into an argument on with his girlfriend on off the side of a the road on a Phoenix freeway. Police said he identified himself as a legislator, cited the immunity provision and demanded that he be let go. Bundgaard denies this.
In Arkansas last year, a sheriff’s deputy mistakenly thought legislative immunity meant he couldn’t arrest a speeding legislator who led officers on a high-speed chase through two counties. Georgia lawmakers discussed amending the state constitution in 2005 to repeal legislative immunity after a legislator tried unsuccessfully to use in a DUI case, but the law remains in place.
Murray said Denver police won’t change their guidelines on applying legislative immunity, unless lawmakers decide clarifications are warranted.
“It’s not our job to interpret the law in the middle of the night,” he said.
– By Ivan Moreno, Associated Press
(CBS4 staff contributed to this report)
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