General Assembly working to delay referendum on increasing judicial retirement age

General Assembly working to delay referendum on increasing judicial retirement age

Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, April 5, 2016/Categories: News and Views

Work began in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly Tuesday to delay a ballot question set to appear during April’s primary election that, if approved, would increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.

According to those supporting the resolution in the House, the reasons for the resolution are two-fold.

First, is to move the consideration of the question to the November General Election when more voters—and more independent voters—will be at the polls. Second, is to clarify the “plain meaning” explanation that will accompany the question.

Those supporting the resolution Tuesday said that language, as drafted by the Department of State, is confusing and needlessly wordy.

“The plain English was like 30 inches worth of language,” said resolution sponsor Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery) who agreed with an opinion piece that the language as so confusing nobody would understand it.

“I think that is the reason the language in the resolution is very simple,” she added.

Members of both parties were split on the issue and the resolution cleared committee by a 16-11 vote.

Concern about the process, cost, and confusion to voters was expressed by a number of members.

“While I agree with the policy, and I hope in the future that ballot questions are only in the General Elections because that is a better idea to capture more voters and more voices, I think that this would be utterly confusing and just unfair,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery).

Rep. Mark Keller (R-Perry) said he knows that absentee ballots in his county with the ballot question have already been printed and sent to voters.

“Are we going to be actually confusing the electorate by their own vote on this or what’s going to happen,” he asked.

According to Rep. Harper, the resolution provides that any votes cast on the ballot question will be disregarded.

Rep. Brandon Neuman (D-Washington) asked about the cost of moving the question to November.

Committee staff reported that the advertising costs for the constitutional amendment—estimated to be between $1 million and $1.2 million—would have to be repeated for November. Counties may also have some costs to reprint paper ballots.

In the Senate, the Rules Committee was scheduled to vote on a similar resolution Tuesday afternoon, but it was held over.

While no timelines yet exist for when the resolutions may be considered on the floor of their respective chamber, the last legislative session week before the April primary is next week.

According to Gov. Tom Wolf’s press secretary, Jeff Sheridan, the Wolf administration is currently in a wait-and-see mode. He noted if the General Assembly does not act, the language as currently drafted will appear on the April primary ballot.