Traffic stop focuses attention on state lawmakers’ immunity from arrest

Traffic stop focuses attention on state lawmakers’ immunity from arrest
The traffic stop involving Delegate Chris Hurst has focused attention on the Virginia Constitution, which grants immunity from arrest to members of the General Assembly during the legislative session. (Source: WDBJ)

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) The traffic stop involving Delegate Chris Hurst has focused attention on the Virginia Constitution, which grants immunity from arrest to members of the General Assembly during the legislative session.

In the days since a Christiansburg police officer pulled over Hurst and asked him to perform field sobriety tests on the side of the road, many people have been sharing their opinions on social media.

And some, like the twitter account Virginia Political Memes, are focusing on a provision of the Virginia Constitution, which they have dubbed the "Legislator Loophole."

"At the basic level, what does Article IV Section 9 do," we asked Virginia Tech Professor and WDBJ7 Political Analyst Bob Denton. "It recognizes that when we talk about politics and governing, that's a human process, a human activity, subject to emotions and biases, prejudices, harassment," Denton said.

The Constitution says "Members of the General Assembly shall, in all cases except treason, felony or breach of the peace be privileged from arrest during the sessions of their respective houses."

In a statement, Hurst said he is not above the law. "I never avoid responsibility and accept the consequences of my actions," he said.

But both Democrats and Republicans we spoke with, said the immunity provision is justified to ensure the legislative process moves forward without interference.

Virginia Tech Professor and WDBJ7 Political Analyst Bob Denton said its roots run deep.

"This is pretty much common practice in terms of England and in terms of European nations and frankly it's not unusual at all," Denton told us. "...so that you're not harassed, intimidated, threatened that would somehow influence your decision-making."

A proposal that would limit lawmakers immunity during the General Assembly session is now moving forward. Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) introduced a constitutional amendment on the floor of the Senate on Thursday.

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