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Firefighter residency requirement lifted at midnight

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – A controversial state law that allows St. Louis firefighters to live outside the city after seven years takes effect Saturday.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed the law in June, ending a five-year effort by the city's firefighters to gain the right to move.

The International Association of Firefighters Local 73 went to the state after city politicians refused to lift the residency requirements. Police earned the right to move in 2005 when the appointed board that oversees the department voted to lift the department residency requirement, but all other city employees must live in the boundaries unless they are granted an exception.

Local 73 members are glad their five-year fight is over, vice president Ken Mitchell said. The residency requirement made it hard to convince qualified recruits with young children to take the job if they could not afford private or parochial schools, Mitchell said, and would occasionally keep families apart.

But Mitchell said city officials shouldn't expect a mass exodus.

"We can't sit there and pay for our house and buy another house," he said. "We would have to sell our house first, which everybody knows right now the housing market is in the tank anyway, so."

About 65 percent of police still live within the city.

Jeff Rainford, the chief of staff to Mayor Francis Slay, said the mayor does not oppose lifting residency requirements, but will continue a legal challenge to the state law. The city, he said, has control over purely local issues like residency requirements, and city voters should decide.

"It's kind of a little bit ironic because the sponsor of this bill was at a rally recently where he was railing about the fed government getting involved in matters that are purely state matters and then he turns around and sponsors legislation in which the state is getting involved in matters that are purely local matters," Rainford said. That sponsor, Republican Jim Lembke, says he stepped in after the firefighter's efforts to work with the city failed.

Since the city believes its charter is still in effect, Rainford said the city will start the paperwork to terminate any firefighter who moves away. But the process wouldn't be completed until a judge rules, he said.

There is no trial date scheduled for the case.