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Pennsylvania voters will decide whether mandatory retirement age for judges should be 70 or 75


HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania voters will get to decide whether the state's judges should be allowed to stay on the bench for an additional five years before they are forced to retire.

The state Senate voted 36-13 Monday to approve a pair of bills to extend the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 and put the proposal out for a referendum vote in the April 26 primary.

The only senators who spoke during the brief debate opposed the bill.

Sen. Anthony Williams cited the ongoing scandal over pornographic emails that forced one state Supreme Court justice to resign last year and prompted an investigation into the email practices of a sitting justice as reasons that judges do not deserve an opportunity to serve longer terms.

"They should not serve a day longer, but they sure as heck shouldn't receive the opportunity to serve five additional years," the Philadelphia Democrat said. "These people do not represent the best of Pennsylvania."

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria, noted that judges run only once in a conventional election and then routinely are awarded additional 10-year terms in "retention" votes in which they are unopposed. He said their generous salaries and pensions far exceed a rank-and-file legislator's compensation.

"I think 70 years of age is plenty of time to make a millionaire out of individuals," he said.

Pennsylvania judges are currently required to step down by the end of the year in which they turn 70. Proponents of the extended age limit argue that the judiciary would benefit from a longer tenure for experienced jurists.

All of the state's roughly 1,000 judges would be affected if voters approve the retirement age change.

The Senate action completed the two rounds of legislative approval that are required for a constitutional amendment. Both chambers first approved the measure two years ago.

The vote came less than two weeks after Democrats won three open seats on the state Supreme Court, giving them a 5-2 majority on Pennsylvania's highest court, as well as two vacant seats on the state's mid-level appellate courts.

This story has been corrected to say the 2016 primary election will be on April 26, not April 25.

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