House approves bills on judges

The Louisiana House on Monday approved a multiyear pay raise plan for the state’s judges.

The action, on a 79-16 vote, came without any debate on the plan recommended by the state’s Judicial Compensation Commission that provides pay raises for the next five years.

Senate Bill 188 now returns to the state Senate for concurrence in House changes. The Senate-passed bill contained language that would stop a pay raise for sheriffs that’s tied to the judges’ pay. A House committee removed the language clearing the way for sheriffs to benefit.

Later in the day, the Louisiana Senate approved legislation appropriating $169 million for the expenses of the judiciary that included an extra $2.5 million to cover costs of the first year of pay raises.

The judicial expense bill returns to the House for concurrence in the change. The House had approved the pay raises on condition that no new funding would be appropriated.

SB188 would increase Supreme Court justices’ pay by 5.5 percent, appeals court judges’ by 3.7 percent and general trial court judges’ by 4 percent this year. Supreme Court justices’ pay would increase to $159,047; appellate, $149,023; and general trial court, $143,215, according to commission documents.

Then, the pay would increase 2.1 percent in each of the following four years.

Also Monday, the House failed to pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would lift a mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges.

The Senate-passed proposition came up nine votes shy of the required two-thirds vote for passage. The vote was 61-35.

“There’s only one elected official or group of elected officials in this state subject to term limits based on the discriminatory circumstance of age and that’s our elected judges,” said state Rep. Greg Miller, who handled Senate Bill 5 on the House floor.

Miller, R-Norco, said it makes no sense in a democracy to deny voters the right to elect whom they want without regard to age.

He urged the House to do away with “this arbitrary and discriminatory” age restriction.

Opponents argued that the age limit is similar to term limits that elected officials such as themselves face.

State Rep. Jay Morris also noted that private corporate boards have mandatory retirement ages as well as many companies. “I just don’t think we should totally eliminate it,” said Morris, R-Monroe.

SB 5 sponsored by state Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, can come up again before Thursday’s 6 p.m. session end.