Capitol Report – Impending residency fight
By State Representative, Leon D. Young
It’s official: The legislative gauntlet has been thrown down in Madison. Governor Walker has proposed in his 2013-15 Biennial Budget document (Assembly Bill 40), a provision that would end residency rules for municipal and school district employees statewide. If residency requirements were repealed, police officers, firefighters and teachers would be free to live anywhere they choose, while still maintaining their current employment as public employees.
As is the case in so many instances in Wisconsin, Milwaukee would be “ground zero” in terms of the potential impact that would result from ending the city’s 75-year old residency law. Moreover, warring parties on both sides have advanced compelling arguments in defense of their respective positions.
Proponents of ending residency requirements, mainly the Milwaukee Police Association, the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association Local 215 and the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, have all come out and effusively endorsed the end of residency. Furthermore, proponents assert that this change in the law will provide law enforcement agencies with a greater pool of employment applicants from which to consider; and argue that their members should be accorded both the liberty and freedom to live where they choose.
Detractors of repeal, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Common Council President Willie Hines, have countered by articulating a different set of legitimate and pressing concerns. For instance, the fact that Milwaukee still finds itself in the throes of a foreclosure crisis brought about, in large measure, by the Great Recession of 2008. In fact, the city is now the largest residential property owner in Milwaukee because of foreclosures, and hundreds of homes must be razed because they’ve become magnets for crime.
Another serious argument to consider is the fact that this repeal initiative is being advanced through the budget process, as opposed to an independent bill.
Non-supporters strongly believe that decisions of this nature should be made at the local level and in the full light of legislative scrutiny.
Interestingly enough, both the Milwaukee Police Association and Milwaukee Professional Firefighters’ Local 215 had sought to end the residency rule in previous years; and both of these fraternal associations supported Scott Walker in his initial campaign for governor as well as in his recall last year.
Now, the governor is calling for a statewide repeal of residency. Political payback or a mere coincidence? I’ll let you draw your own conclusion; and, by the way, I neglected to mention that Scott Walker is up for reelection in 2014.