Northeast Times

Days could be numbered for Philadelphia Traffic Court

State sen­ate to vote on trans­fer­ral of Phil­adelphia Traffic Court.

The Pennsylvania Sen­ate could fol­low the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives this week in ap­prov­ing a bill that would trans­fer Traffic Court op­er­a­tions to Mu­ni­cip­al Court.

Last week, the House voted 114-81 to al­low Mu­ni­cip­al Court judges and hear­ing ex­am­iners to handle Traffic Court cases.

Among loc­al law­makers, the meas­ure was sup­por­ted by Reps. Tom Murt (R-152nd dist.), John Sabat­ina Jr. (D-174th dist.) and John Taylor (R-177th dist.).

Op­pos­ing the le­gis­la­tion were Reps. Steve Mc­Carter (D-154th dist.), Ed Neilson (D-169th dist.), Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.), Kev­in Boyle (D-172nd dist.), Mike McGee­han (D-173rd dist.), James Clay (D-179th dist.), Mark Co­hen (D-202nd dist.) and Dwight Evans (D-203rd dist.).

If the Sen­ate passes the bill, Gov. Tom Corbett is ex­pec­ted to sign it. The law would take ef­fect in 60 days.

In Janu­ary, the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice an­nounced a grand jury in­dict­ment of 12 people af­fil­i­ated with Traffic Court, in­clud­ing nine cur­rent or former judges. Three of those judges already have pleaded guilty.

The charges stemmed from fam­ily and friends of judges and em­ploy­ees be­ing ac­quit­ted for mov­ing vi­ol­a­tions at a much high­er rate than the gen­er­al pub­lic.

Also last week, the House passed a bill by a count of 117-81 that would elim­in­ate Traffic Court from the state Con­sti­tu­tion. Murt, Sabat­ina and Taylor favored the bill, while the oth­er loc­al le­gis­lat­ors were op­posed.

The Sen­ate voted 50-0 in Feb­ru­ary to dis­solve Traffic Court.

To be­come law, that bill must pass the House and Sen­ate in two con­sec­ut­ive le­gis­lat­ive ses­sions and pass a statewide ref­er­en­dum. The earli­est that could hap­pen would be the spring of 2015.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Domin­ic Pi­leggi, a Delaware County Re­pub­lic­an, sponsored both bills.

“Phil­adelphia Traffic Court is widely known as an in­sti­tu­tion where people are treated dif­fer­ently based on who they are or who they know,” he said. “That kind of un­fair­ness can­not be tol­er­ated, par­tic­u­larly not in our courtrooms. I ap­plaud the House for tak­ing ac­tion on both of these bills.”

Pi­leggi said the Sen­ate is ex­pec­ted to vote this week on the bill to trans­fer Traffic Court re­spons­ib­il­it­ies to Mu­ni­cip­al Court. 

If Corbett signs it in­to law, the cur­rent va­can­cies on Traffic Court will not be filled, and Mu­ni­cip­al Court will im­me­di­ately be­gin the pro­cess of cre­at­ing a Traffic Di­vi­sion.

That means there will be no races for Traffic Court on the Novem­ber bal­lot. Demo­crats Omar Sabir, Donna DeR­ose and Marnie Aument-Loughrey won the May 21 primary. The two Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates are Chris Vo­gler and Ella Butcher. ••

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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