Arizona immunity case sheds light on privileged political class

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Arizona Sen. Scott Bundgaard’s alleged invocation of a state law, which gave him immunity to arrest last February when he was faced with misdemeanor domestic violence charges, has spawned legislation to amend a provision in the Arizona Constitution that grants partial immunity to lawmakers during and right before session.

Bundgaard resigned last Friday as a result of an ethics complaint filed by state Sen. Steve Gallardo. The former republican state senator from Peoria denied that he claimed legislative immunity. Several law enforcement officers who had responded to an altercation between Bundgaard and his then-girlfriend on the side of State Highway 51 testified before the Senate Ethics Committee that if Bundgaard had not claimed immunity, they would have arrested him on suspicion of domestic-violence assault. Officers did arrest Bundgaard’s girlfriend.

Gallardo, however, means to make a further example out of Bundgaard. The Phoenix Democrat has proposed a resolution for a referendum that would let voters take aim at the immunity law. Senate Concurrent Resolution 1007 wants Arizonans to answer the question: why should lawmakers be exempt from arrest during session for all crimes except felonies, acts of treason or breach of the peace? If passed, the measure would keep in place legislators’ immunities against civil court proceedings during and right before session.

The circumstances of Bundgaard’s resignation were the impetus for another Gallardo bill. Senate Bill 1027 would require tougher fines and penalties for domestic violence offenders.

At a time when it’s popular to cling to class warfare rhetoric, it will be interesting to see how much political capital there is to be gained from demagoguing the impropriety of seemingly archaic laws that elevate lawmakers to a class of their own.