State House approves legislation to abolish Philadelphia Traffic Court

Philadelphia Traffic Court at Eighth and Spring Garden Streets was in session Thursday, but some of the judges hearing cases were from out of town. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

The state House in a 117-81 vote just approved one of two state Senate bills to eliminate the controversy-plagued Philadelphia Traffic Court.  The second bill is expected to come up for a vote tomorrow.

The approved bill would eliminate Traffic Court, which requires a change to the state Constitution.  That bill will have to be again approved in the next legislative session of the General Assembly and then approved by voters in a statewide ballot referendum.

The second bill eliminates three vacant Traffic Court seats up for election this year and transfers the job of hearing traffic ticket cases to Municipal Court. Three Democrats and two Republicans won primary elections two weeks ago for those seats.

If signed into law by Gov. Corbett, that legislation would wipe those seats off the November general election ballot.

House Democrats from Philadelphia complained about the legislation during debate Monday and today, calling it unfair to focus on problems in only one court.  They noted that judges have run into criminal trouble in recent years, from the lowest level District Justices to a state Supreme Court justice.

"This bill doesn’t address nearly the problems we have in our court systems around the Commonwealth," said state Rep. Mike McGeehan of Northeast Philly.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Delaware County Republican, proposed the bills just days after nine current and former Traffic Court judges were accused by federal prosecutors with fixing tickets for political favors.

The Senate unanimously approved both bills on Feb. 13.  Both bills were later amended by the House, which means the Senate must again approve them.  That is expected to happen Monday or Tuesday.

Pileggi spokesman Erik Arneson said the House amendments clarified how hearing officers will be trained and adds two judicial posts to Municipal Court. Pileggi agreed with those amendments, said Arneson, noting that Corbett’s administration has said he will sign the legislation into law.