State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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House committee OKs raising judges' mandatory retirement age

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | May 14, 2013 6:40 PM

A state House panel has approved a measure to give state judges an extra five years on the bench.

The plan to raise state judges' mandatory retirement age to 75 still has a long way to go. The age limit is written into the state Constitution - and the amendment process would take four or five years.

Meanwhile, a number of challenges to the age limit are pending in federal and state courts.

Rep. Brian Ellis (R-Butler) noted the reaction from the state Supreme Court, which heard arguments last week on striking down the retirement age.

"We haven't heard from what they thought, and I guess the word is they don't think they should be deciding for themselves," said Ellis. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases last week, and some justices reportedly had doubts they should change the constitutionally-prescribed mandate themselves. "I'm just wondering," Ellis continued, " is this something we should be doing at this point?"

He added he's not sold on allowing judges to stay on the state's payroll longer - think of the potential pension costs, he said.

Supporters of the House measure to give judges until 75 before they must retire say it strikes the right balance - updating a decades-old rule without stymying the careers of younger aspiring judges. A Senate proposal would abolish the mandatory retirement rule altogether.

"The mandatory retirement age was set in 1968," said Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery), the House bill's sponsor. "Life expectancies have greatly increased since that time."

She also noted passing the measure out of committee would be the first of many steps needed before changing the age limit - something that would ultimately require a voter referendum.

"This is the first step in a very, very long process to ask the voters if they think judges should be forced to retire at 70 or whether they can stay an extra five years at 75," said Harper.


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