Battle over residency requirement headed to court

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The battle over residency requirements in the city of Milwaukee enters a new phase. It has moved from the State Legislature to the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

Right now, city employees are free to move without any consequences. But a decision to move probably isn't smart until there's a decision from a judge.

When Gov. Scott Walker signed the state budget into law, he also lifted residency requirements across the state.

Shortly after, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the Milwaukee Common Council decided they would continue to enforce the city's requirement that city employees must live within city limits.

"Ultimately he has to answer to the judge on that, for us as far as we're concerned that law went into effect July 1," said Gov. Walker.

The Milwaukee Police Association took the matter to court. Now, a Milwaukee County judge has issued a temporary restraining order forcing the city to obey the state law for now.

"During the pendency of this legal proceeding, it will not enforce the residency requirement. What that means is people are free to move, but if at the end of the legal proceedings the city is successful, they're going to be out there and have to come back, so obviously there's a cloud over the whole thing," said Mayor Barrett.

Aside from the legal argument, Barrett is making an economic case. He says lifting the residency requirement could lead to police and firefighters moving out of the city, impacting middle class neighborhoods.

"This is a legal battle right now and it's all over the interpretation of the phrase 'home rule,'" said Barrett.

For Barrett, the case hinges on home rule -- and how the court interprets that provision of the state Constitution.

The "home rule" section basically says local governments "may determine their local affairs" unless there's a compelling statewide concern. The city says matters like residency requirements are issues of local control -- to be decided in City Hall, not at the Capitol.

"This is the first time the state has come into the game, which basically says for the last 75 years, it has recognized that this is an issue of local control," said Barrett.

"We think it was settled, we think ultimately the courts will uphold the law, just like the last two and a half years they have repeatedly upheld laws I've signed in this state. It's one of those where there may be a political advantage, but ultimately the law will be upheld," said Gov. Walker.

A full hearing on the issue is expected next Tuesday, July 23rd.