- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Wisconsin appeals court on Tuesday upheld Milwaukee’s long-standing requirement that its public workers also live in the city, undermining a Republican-backed state law meant to bar such restrictions.

The prohibition unfairly targets the state’s largest city and doesn’t address any statewide concerns, the 1st District Court of Appeals said.

“The sole reason we can delineate for the statute’s existence is the gutting of Milwaukee’s long-standing residency requirement,” Presiding Judge Patricia S. Curley wrote. “We cannot conclude that such a measure involves the health, safety, or welfare of the people of Wisconsin in any demonstrable way.”

The 2013-15 state budget that Republican legislators drew up prohibits local governments from enforcing any residency requirements beyond requiring police and firefighters to live within 15 miles of the government unit.

According to a 2013 Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis, 13 municipalities and three counties required all of their employees to live within the municipal limits. The city of Milwaukee, a Democratic enclave, was one of them. The city had required its employees to reside within its boundaries for more than 75 years, according to the appeals court decision. The analysis noted that the city employs about 7,200 people and warned that if large numbers of city workers were to pull up stakes, the city’s economy and housing prices would decline dramatically.

Milwaukee officials refused to abide by the budget language, triggering a lawsuit from the Milwaukee Professional Police Association. The Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association later joined the action and a county judge ultimately ruled that the state law trumped the city’s residency restrictions.

The appeals court noted that the Wisconsin Constitution states that cities and villages may determine their local affairs unless the Legislature enacts laws of statewide concern that affect each municipality in the same way.

Curley wrote that the prohibition’s effect on the rest of the state beyond Milwaukee was never substantiated and there’s no evidence that the prohibition was drafted with the public’s health, safety or welfare in mind.

She also wrote that allowing workers to live outside the municipality results in slower service times, especially when responding to emergencies.

“We agree with the City that its ‘interest in the efficient delivery of City services to its residents is a … matter of local affairs that is advanced by the requirement that City employees live in the City they serve.’” Curley wrote. “We … conclude the City ordinance is still good law.”

Milwaukee Professional Police Association attorney Jonathan Cermele didn’t immediately return telephone and email messages seeking comment. Assistant City Attorney Miriam Horwitz didn’t immediately return a telephone message.

Curt Witynski, assistant director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said that group was pleased with the ruling because it upholds the concept of home rule, or municipalities’ authority to govern their own affairs. He said he doesn’t believe the ruling applies beyond Milwaukee because its residency requirements were uniquely tailored to that city. Other municipalities could rewrite their residency ordinances using Milwaukee’s restrictions as a model, though, he said.


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