Rep. T.J. Shope — and Gov. Doug Ducey — had the best of intentions in wanting to repeal the immunity from arrest that Arizona legislators enjoy. However Shope, the Coolidge Republican who represents much of Pinal County, found that some of his colleagues did not agree. Shope’s resolution to put repeal on the ballot, which was called for by the governor, is dying in the current session. And that is sad.
The immunity is in the state Constitution and covers legislators in all matters except “treason, felony and breach of the peace.” The reason, apparently, was a fear when Arizona was a new state that a rogue law enforcement officer or other official with bad motive might seek to prevent a legislator from getting to Phoenix for a vote. If that were a valid concern in those times, modern communications would negate it now.
People today are often cynical about their elected officials and most institutions. This is just one reason why. Shope has seen that to be true in many conversations with constituents who have found a “seemingly two-tiered system of laws and rules,” he told The Arizona Republic. Earlier, Ducey said in his State of the State address, “Let’s show the people of Arizona that their elected leaders will live under the same laws as every man and woman in this state.”
Last year a House member, Paul Mosley, was caught going 97 mph in a 55 mph zone in western Arizona. He bragged to a sheriff’s deputy that he sometimes went 140. Another legislator, Scott Bundgaard, in 2011 also claimed immunity after fighting with his girlfriend on a freeway. He went home while the girlfriend went to jail. And those are not the only two examples from recent years.
The resolution appears dead because the House speaker, Rusty Bowers, opposes it and has not given it a hearing, saying immunity “was put here for a reason, by the people, in the Constitution.”
Arizonans often expect more from their legislators than they receive, and they are not being unreasonable. But Shope did the right thing, and the change may occur someday.