Though the Senate measures were sponsored by a suburban Republican, the city's top Democrat promptly called them "the right thing to do." Mayor Nutter, in Harrisburg on other business, told The Inquirer that the court was "an abominable mess."
The bills' chief sponsor agreed. "After the most recent round of indictments, the situation in Philadelphia Traffic Court is so bad that only one judge out of seven is still serving on the court," Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said after the bills were approved. "There is no good reason for taxpayers to continue footing the bill for a court that is unnecessary and has become an embarrassment to the state's judicial system."
Pileggi noted that no other county in Pennsylvania has a separate traffic court, and that his chamber estimates that eliminating Philadelphia's could save the taxpayers up to $650,000 a year.
Late last month, nine current and former Traffic Court judges were charged with dismissing or reducing citations for friends, family, business associates, and political allies. Two former judges - Kenneth Miller, 76, of Brookhaven, and H. Warren Hogeland, 75, of Richboro - pleaded guilty in the case this week.
Pileggi's legislation grew out of a review last year of Traffic Court operations by the state Supreme Court, which revealed a litany of ethics problems. His proposal to strike the language authorizing Traffic Court from the state's 1968 constitution would require an amendment, which means legislators would have to approve the measure in two separate sessions before voters could decide its ultimate fate via a statewide referendum. Each session lasts two years, so the earliest the measure could be placed on the ballot would be the spring of 2015.
Pileggi's second bill addresses that by requiring that the court's duties be transferred to Municipal Court and its complement of judges whittled down to two.
It was not immediately clear who would decide the fate of the court's roughly 120 employees. But Pileggi's office expressed confidence that the measure hobbling the court would pass legal muster, noting among other things that the constitution does not say how many judges Traffic Court should have.
Pileggi's bills seem to have support in both chambers and both parties. In the House, Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) said he believed there was broad support for them in his caucus.
And though many of the recent revelations about the court involve favors done for various ward leaders and other political figures, one longtime Democratic ward leader - Nutter - said he, too, was for abolishing the court.
"It's an abominable mess, a total disgrace," said the mayor, who was in the Capitol on Wednesday to discuss issues such as gun violence, school funding, and tax-collection authority with members of the Philadelphia delegation. "People should have confidence they are getting true justice and that there is not something nefarious behind it."
The court's uncertain future does not appear to have deterred potential candidates for Traffic Court judgeships.
There are three vacancies on the court, and three of the four remaining judges have been suspended. So far, 25 individuals have picked up nominating petitions to be candidates in the May 21 primary, according to Timothy Dowling, acting supervisor of elections in the City Commissioners' Office.
All it takes to run is 1,000 signatures from registered Philadelphia voters - no educational degrees or license to practice law are required to become a Traffic Court judge. Candidates will have three weeks to circulate their petitions, from Tuesday through March 12.
Lynn A. Marks, executive director for the nonpartisan group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, applauded Wednesday's Senate votes.
The two bills made "good sense," Marks said, but she also urged more action: comprehensive ethics training for judges and court staff, community education programs to teach Philadelphians about the role of judges, and increased transparency and accountability in the adjudication of traffic tickets.
Her group has also called repeatedly for doing away with partisan elections of appellate court justices and judges, and replacing them with a so-called merit selection system.
Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.
Inquirer staff writers Bob Warner and Amy Worden contributed to this article.