Lucky lawmakers in Washington state get to drive as fast as they want. It’s in the state constitution.
According to Washington State Patrol Spokesperson Bob Calkins, even a state legislator is hundreds of miles from Olympia, Washington’s capitol, they’ve still got a free pass to put the pedal to the metal.
"As soon as we find out they are a legislator, if they choose to tell us, then we need to get them on their way as soon as possible," Calkins said.
What’s the deal? Why do lawmakers in Washington get to be speed demons while ordinary Washingtonians still face fines for breaking the limit? The answer lies in the state’s constitution which requires that legislators “shall be privileged from arrest in all cases except treason, felony and breach of the peace" as long as the legislature is in session.
The legislature is in session for 105 days in odd-numbered years, 60 days in even-numbered years. The constitution also gives an extra 15 days before each session when legislators are free from arrest.
Despite the constitutional provision, Calkins said that the free pas only applies to non-criminal violations such as speeding. Drunk driving and other criminal offenses are still off limits, even for legislators due in the capitol for a vote.
Most traffic offenses are considered civil, not criminal offenses in Washington, so lawmakers can get away with speeding.
"It's commonly joked about," state Sen. Jeannie Darneille. "I have never seen anything in writing . and I've never tested it."
Another state lawmaker says that taking advantage of the privilege is probably more trouble than it’s worth.
"If you're an elected official and you're ever involved with law enforcement, it's only going to create more problems for you if you say, 'Hey, I'm a member of the House,' or 'I'm a state senator,'" said State Rep. Laurie Jinkins.
SOURCES: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Tacoma News-Tribune