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The House voted Tuesday to allow police and fire departments to force employees to retire at age 55.

The bill, approved by voice vote, would exempt state and local law enforcement agencies and fire departments from the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act and allow them to use age-based criteria in hiring and retirement plans.

The measure was supported by the National Association of Police Organizations.

"It's a safety issue for our members, but realistically, it's also a safety issue for the American public we're out there trying to protect," said Robert Scully, executive director of the group.

David Certner, lobbyist for the American Association of Retired People, called the legislation "blatant age discrimination" and said police and fire personnel are "basically being thrown out of their jobs at age 55."

Rep. Harris W. Fawell, R-Ill., the bill's sponsor, said, "The public safety field is one of the rare exceptions where one's age is relevant to one's ability to perform" such physically strenuous jobs.

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