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Residency requirement lifted for St. Louis city employees

Rici Hoffarth
St. Louis Public Radio
The city’s charter has required most full-time employees to live in the city since 1914. Voters rejected an effort to lift that requirement in 2020.

Four words tucked into a 193-page state bill mean that starting Monday, City of St. Louis employees will no longer have to live in the city.

Gov. Mike Parson signed the measure, a public safety omnibus bill, on July 6. The relevant languagewas inserted into a section that originally dealt with residency for public safety employees.

While St. Louis’ charter has required full-time workers to live in the city since 1914, police and fire department employees have gotten exemptions along the way — often with the help of the state legislature.

This year, state Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, introduced a measure to allow all employees to move outside of the city, with a five-year sunset. She says it came out of conversations with the mayor’s office about how hard it is to hire people.

The language that became law does not include an end date.

“I can’t say that I was OK with it,” May said. “It’s just that at that moment, I had other fights happening.”

State Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, has championed lifting residency requirements for police for years but said other city workers deserve a break too.

“They’re not widgets that you just place wherever you want like your property,” he said. “They have lives to live, and I think they should be able to live them wherever they want.”

An amendment Roberts offered to a Senate bill vetoed by Parson mirrors the language that eventually passed covering all city employees.

The move by the General Assembly overrode the will of voters in the city, who defeated a charter change to eliminate the residency requirement in 2020.

“The vote was so close,” May said. “Half of the city was against it, and half of the city was for it. When you’re in leadership and you’re trying to get things done, there’s decisions that you have to make, and sometimes those are tough decisions, especially when you’re trying to run a city and fill positions.”

Charter changes require 60% approval to pass.

Alderwoman Cara Spencer of the 8th Ward voted against even putting the question to voters in 2020. But she said the city has lost the ability to provide basic services because it doesn’t have enough employees and something needed to change, even if she was unhappy that it was the state that acted.

“Residency is only one issue when it comes to hiring,” she added. “The city really needs to be doing a comprehensive look at salaries, retention, hiring practices and recruitment.”

Spencer said she is concerned that lifting the requirement will lead to more people leaving the city because their employment is not contingent on living there.

Board President Megan Green, who also opposed lifting the requirement in 2020, said in a statement that she was "hopeful that expanding the pool of applicants will help us fill vacancies and ultimately improve the delivery of city services."

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.