Shawn Ashley, Quorum Call

(QC) House Speaker Pro Tempore Kyle Hilbert shucked a bill Thursday and inserted language that establishes a mandatory retirement age for appellate justices and judges.

Hilbert, R-Depew, shucked SB0473 . A floor substitute replaced the bill’s language the removed a statutory provision allowing an education employee to retain insurance coverage during a leave of absence due to election or appointment as a local, state, or national education association officer with new language creating the Oklahoma Judicial Retirement Act of 2024.

The bill, which also is authored by Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, now requires Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals judges to retire at the age of 75. It permits them to complete the term during which they attain the age if they choose to do so. It requires each retired justice or judge to receive retirement benefits as provided by law. It requires justices or judges who attain the age of 75 on or before the effective date of the bill to retire upon its effective date, provided they may complete the term during which this act was enacted if he or she chooses to complete such term. The bill requires any vacancy resulting from a retirement be filled as provided by law. It prohibits a person 75 years of age or older from election or appointment as an appellate justice or judge. It declares the provisions of the act severable and provide that if any part or provision is held void that the decision of the court will not affect or impair any of the remaining parts or provisions of the act.

It also had included district judges, but they were removed by an amendment. The bill’s title and enacting clause were stricken, as well.

Rep. Jared Deck, D-Norman, noted the language was similar to that of SB1672 , which also was on House general order. “With the magnitude of this subject, I believe we could get it passed as a live round, but I just think under the circumstances, we needed to strike title and enacting clause to send this to conference. I just think that is a better process for this particular language and handle it that way.”

In its previous form, the bill was assigned to the House General Government Committee, where it was not heard by the April 12 deadline for Senate bills to be heard in a House committee. It was moved direct to the House calendar Tuesday.

Deck asked why the age 75 was chosen. Hilbert said more than 30 states have an age-based retirement, including some that set the age at 70. “I would also say this creates opportunities for attorneys who want to be judges,” said Hilbert.

Deck said he estimated the bill would turn over one-third of the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals. “Is that our intent here,” he asked, noting the current governor and next governor would have tremendous power to fill vacancies on the courts.

“Yes, there would be some turnover, although some of that turnover might be happening organically,” said Hilbert, as justices and judges decided to retire on their own.

Deck asked why Hilbert thought the bill was necessary, particularly given the longevity of people today.

“AT any point, you are just picking a number, picking an age,” Hilbert acknowledged, noting the issue would continue to be discussed. He also said it was important to keep the conversation about judicial reform alive.

There was no debate before the bill passed 56-26. It now returns to the Senate.

Two proposed amendments by Rep. Melodye Blancett, D-Tulsa, were tabled. One would have made legislators, statewide elected officials and gubernatorial appointees subject to the mandatory retirement age. The other proposed amendment would have made the mandatory retirement age applicable only to new justices and judges.

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