The Joint Retirement Committee this morning approved bills that would ease or remove an impediment to state judges continuing to serve after 70 years of age.

Current law says judges who turn 70 during a term of office may complete that term without forfeiting retirement benefits, but must forfeit them if they are elected again.

The Committee first approved Rep. David Hillman’s HB 1219 to alter the rule to say that a judge may serve another term without loss of benefit if he or she isn’t 70 on the day of election (in May, generally, unless there’s a runoff). There was no debate and no questions on the bill, which adds several months between election and a new term of office to the breathing room for a judge to stay on the bench without losing retirement. He said about 5 percent of judges would be affected by the change.

Then Rep. Reginald Murdock proposed HB 1352 to eliminate the age penalty for judges. This drew some resistance, including from a Garland County woman who apparently wasn’t happy with a long-serving judge there.

Murdock said the limit was outdated and that judges get wiser as they get older. Rep. Grant Hodges said he didn’t have enough information to vote. Murdock said the issue was simple, merely eliminating age as an encouragement to retire. Sen. Joyce Elliott joined him in support, saying no other public official worked under such a limit. Rep. Doug House suggested the limit served to encourage changes on the bench and opened the door for others who’d like to run, because it was rare for incumbents to face opposition.

If the legislature wants to see term limits on judges, it could propose that, Elliott said.

Murdock noted that 18 legislators are older than 70.

The bill got a do-pass on a voice vote. The issue of judicial retirement has simmered for several years, including with an unsuccessful lawsuit that challenged it as unconstitutional discrimination.