State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Bills to eliminate Philly Traffic Court clear Senate panel

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Feb 17, 2013 7:06 AM
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Photo by General Assembly website

It’s looking like all green lights for two state Senate proposals to phase out the Philadelphia Traffic Court.

The bills have been approved in committee and will be considered by the full Senate. The panel vote came less than two weeks after federal indictments of nine elected Traffic Court judges and three other people for allegedly participating in a ticket-fixing scandal.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi has offered one measure to scrub the Philadelphia Traffic Court from the state constitution. His other bill would phase out the court -- whether or not the lengthy constitutional amendment process is successful.

Pileggi said the second bill would reduce the number of Traffic Court judges and bring them under the supervision of Philadelphia’s Municipal Court, eventually switching to a traffic division staffed entirely by Municipal Court judges.

“One of the key distinctions between the Municipal Court judges and the Traffic Court judges of course is that the municipal court judges must be attorneys licensed in the commonwealth,” said Pileggi. “The Traffic Court judges need not be.”

The second of Pileggi’s two bills also reduces the number of judges in the proposed traffic division.

“We have to recognize the right of those who have been elected to continue to serve,” said Pileggi. “We can’t eliminate a position in the middle of a term. But it is a transition bill that eventually phases out the existence of Traffic Court.”

Philadelphia is the only county in the commonwealth with a separate Traffic Court.

Senate Democrats support the legislation to eliminate the court. Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) suggested judicial reform is necessary in other courts as well in the southeast.

“If people think that Philadelphia traffic court is the only place someone may walk in and magistrate may give some kind of favoritism… based upon your affiliation, then there are actually green men on Mars,” said Williams.

He declined to be more specific.

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