How legislators can end their immunity from criminal prosecution

05/19/2014 11:48 AM

05/19/2014 11:49 AM

In our editorial on Sunday, we called on Senate leaders to introduce legislation to close the Manning Loophole, which requires the attorney general to wait for legislative permission before he can investigate legislators for taking bribes and converting government resources or campaign funds to personal use and otherwise making money off of their office.

It seems like a stretch, with just three weeks left in the regular legislative session, and it is. But it’s possible, if legislators are determined to act. Here’s how:

With unanimous consent, the Senate could bypass the committee process — which would be a dicey thing to do if this were complicated legislation, but there’s no reason it should be complicated — and give the bill second reading on Wednesday and third reading on Thursday.

If a single senator objects, he or she can explain to the public why legislators should be granted this special status that no one has ever understood them to have, that as far as we know no legislators in any other state have. And Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin could immediately poll it out of committee; that objector likely would raise a 24-hour point, but the Senate still could give the bill second reading on Thursday and pass it May 27.

If a senator put an objection on the bill, the rest of the Senate would have to plow through the contested calendar — adjourning debate on every bill, and invoking cloture on anyone who objected — to get to it. I don’t recall this sort of thing ever being done, but that’s because senators haven’t wanted to do it, not because it was impossible.

A similar process would have to occur in the House, although working through the much shorter contested calender would be much easier, and it would be possible for a majority in the House to give the bill final approval and send it to the governor on June 4. That leaves one day to spare.

Of course the other option is for the House to close the Manning Loophole in the ethics reform bill on the House calendar, and there’s no good reason for representatives not to do that. But it’s a scary move, because it would require House members to write the language, and many of them have shown bad faith on this issue. It also would pretty much mean giving up everything else in that bill, which I could live with but which a lot of reasonable, well-meaning people would not want to do.

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