Backlash continues against a Colorado lawmaker who avoided a possible DUI arrest thanks to the state Constitution. Meanwhile, some legislators question whether Denver Police interpreted the law properly.
Rep. Laura Bradford, a Republican from Grand Junction, was pulled over by Denver Police at about 10 p.m. Wednesday on suspicion of drunk driving. Police said Bradford smelled like alcohol and admitted to drinking, but officers didn't require Bradford to take a blood alcohol test, and let her take a cab home with a minor traffic ticket. Police said they couldn't detain Bradford because of a provision in the state Constitution that allows lawmakers immunity from arrest when they are traveling to or from legislative sessions and events. The only exceptions are treason and a felony violation.
The law has been around since Colorado became a state.
"It's there because in times past, the governor or a mayor might arrest a member of the legislature to keep them from voting," explained Rep. Bob Gardner, a Republican representing western El Paso County and northeastern Fremont County.
It's still not clear exactly where Bradford was coming from when she was stopped. Gardner said he believed she was coming from dinner.
"I'm not sure this was the proper application of this provision of the Constitution," said Gardner. "In fact, I think it probably was not."
Rep. Claire Levy, a Democrat from Boulder, agreed.
"I don't think the intent was to give us a 'get out of jail free' card for anything we do while we're in session," said Levy. "I think (police) are over-reading that provision. I don't think that's what it says. It says when we're in session and going to or from a committee hearing."
While neither legislator believes the provision should be done away with, both said there needs to be a better understanding about what it means.
"I would approve of any effort to educate law enforcement officers about what is the proper application of the privilege," said Gardner. "And I'm always willing to take a look at how we might narrow the application so there's no perception by the public that lawmakers are above the law. Because that's absolutely not the case."
Bradford, who has not been reachable for comment, has lost her committee chair position over the incident and could face further sanctions by the House. She released a statement saying, "I look forward to continuing my work on behalf of the people of my district and Colorado. I understand the Speaker's decision and I look forward to having the facts brought to light."
The Colorado Constitution says:
The members of the general assembly shall, in all cases except treason or felony, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the sessions of their respective houses, or any committees thereof, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either house, or any committees thereof, they shall not be questioned in any other place.
The law was effective the day Colorado became a state on Aug. 1, 1876 and was amended once in 1975.
The Denver Police Department Operations Manual says:
205.07 Violations by Colorado Legislators (1) Pursuant to Article 5, Section 16 of the Colorado Constitution, no member of the Colorado General Assembly may be arrested while in route to or from legislative sessions, except for treason or felony violations. (2) Traffic citations may be issued, however the legislator shall not be detained for an undue amount of time. (3) Should an officer have reason to believe a legislator is driving under the influence AND there is an accident with serious injuries or a fatality involved, the legislator will be arrested and processed for the suspected felony; DUI violation. (4) In the absence of felony violations, should an officer have reason to believe a legislator is driving under the influence, the officer may cite for a violation which caused an accident or was the reason for a traffic stop. For the safety and welfare of the public and the legislator, the officer will arrange for other transportation for the legislator and his/her vehicle will be parked and locked.