Judges are the only elected officials in Louisiana who are not allowed to seek election or re-election after turning 70, but voters statewide may be asked this fall whether that should be changed.
Lawmakers debated the idea of removing the mandatory retirement age last year, with the Senate voting 33-2 in favor of judges serving as long as they please. The House, however, failed to give the bill the two-thirds passage required — by only nine votes.
During the 2014 session, two lawmakers have filed constitutional amendments to permit unfettered service on the bench. Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, who led the charge last year, has introduced Senate Bill 11, while Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, is sponsoring House Bill 96.
LaFleur argues that the state is not only losing institutional knowledge under the current system, but also money. He said the proposed change would bring about substantial taxpayer savings since many judges, who would otherwise be forced to draw full retirement at age 70 in most cases, would be able to keep working and would not need to be replaced by another judge.
Groups like AARP and the Louisiana District Judges Association are expected to lobby for the proposal in the coming session.
On the other side of the argument are different groups of lawyers, like rural attorneys, who live in communities where there are fewer judges overseeing cases than in metro areas and thus fewer opportunities to run for open seats.
Some lawmakers said they like the law as it is because it places a ticking clock on how long judges can serve, which is only fair since members of the House and Senate have to abide by term limits themselves.
If either bill passes, the question will be posed to voters in the statewide election scheduled for Nov. 4. Since there will be other races on the ballot, it could remove the objections some lawmakers had last year. LaFleur’s 2013 constitutional amendment would have required a special election, estimated to cost as much as $4.7 million.
Currently, if a judge turns 70 during their service, they are allowed to serve out the remainder of the term, but not stand for re-election.