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Pennsylvania House votes to set judge retirement age to 75; Senate, voters must also approve

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — A constitutional amendment to let judges remain on the bench until age 75 moved a step closer on Tuesday to being considered by the voters, with approval by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

The House voted without debate to pass two bills, one to put the referendum before voters and a second to amend the state Judicial Code with the later retirement age. Both votes were 154-44, with the "no" votes all coming from Republicans, including many of their more conservative members.

Pennsylvania judges currently are required to retire at the end of the year in which they turn 70. Some people contend that judges are able to function effectively after that age.

The House votes sends both measures to the Senate, where a Republican spokeswoman said the legislation would be vetted by committee. She said there was no timeline for that chamber to act.

The retirement age referendum could appear on the November ballot, but Rep. Kate Harper, the measures' prime sponsor, said it is more likely to be next year.

If it passes this year, and takes effect immediately, that could create a problem for a few judicial races in which the incumbent is turning 70. When the state passed an amendment in 2001 to make the age limit take effect at the end of the year, rather than on the judges' birthdays, one county judge opted to remain in office, prompting the Legislature and governor to enact a special bill that temporarily allowed for an extra judge in that county.

Harper, a lawyer who does municipal and zoning work, said a later retirement age could lead to more women on the bench, because their legal careers can sometimes start later or be interrupted by family commitments.

She said passage by the voters is uncertain, as similar measures in other states have been defeated in recent years.

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