Should anybody be above the law?

Here in Arizona we’re having a debate.  Ok, so we’re having a lot of debates here and sparking a few big nasty national ones as well lately.  Arizona is definitely subscribed to the Wild Wild West mentality.  But the debate I’m writing about relates to ethics, and whether our elected officials should have immunity from prosecution while the legislature is in session. Ethics is actually being Debated here??!

It was a crazy incident that sparked this debate.  The state majority leader of the Arizona state Senate and his girlfriend were arrested after having a fight in their car on the highway.  The girlfriend was arrested and charged with assault.  The state majority leader claimed immunity because the state Senate was in session and he was not arrested or charged at the time. Both of them showed bumps and bruises and minor injuries from the fight. The state majority leader later lied about claiming immunity at the time of the incident.

It seems that most states have some sort of law granting immunity while their legislature is in session.  Arizona is one of those states.  On the one hand, this means that we’ve put a certain group of people above the law.  They cannot be punished while they’re doing their job of passing laws and representing us unless the incident is a felony, treason or breach of peace.  If I correctly remember my grade school lessons on how this country was established it seems to me this is the very thing our founding fathers wanted to prevent. That’s why we have three branches of government, with checks and balances on all three of them so none of them have more power or privilege than the others!

On the other hand, if we didn’t have this type of immunity law the risk increases that some people might actively try to prevent lawmakers from getting to the legislature to vote on controversial issues.  Lobbyists and others with power and money have been influencing votes in the US Congress for a long time.  I’m sure it happens at the state and local level as well.  It’s just not as widely publicized unless someone gets caught doing something illegal, like the Fiesta Bowl situation where lawmakers accepted gifts, tickets and trips to football games and didn’t report them.

So what’s the right choice here?  If the fistfight on the highway had been an ordinary citizen, both people would have gone to jail, served their time, and received their punishment.  The media probably wouldn’t have even given this case a second look. Because it was a state senator, though, a whole different set of actions occurred.  The debate was dragged out for almost a year before punishment was delivered, and yet the real ethics issues still have not been fully addressed.

I look at things from the perspective of how current event impacts the future.  This is one of those situations that give me a bad feeling.  We’re setting a precedent for future crimes to be ignored depending on who does them rather than the facts or harm done. It’s time to get back to basics – Forget “whodunit”.  Look at the facts, evaluate the options and consequences for each option, and make a decision based on what we’re willing to accept as a cost, benefit or precedent for the future.

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