St. Louis firefighters have been handed a setback in their bid to live in the community of their own choosing.
Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled Tuesday that a state law granting firefighters the right to live within an hours’ drive of their assigned station, was unconstitutional, and violated the home rule charter authority granted to the City of St. Louis.
Last summer, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed the firefighter residency bill into law over the vehement objection of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. Governor Nixon signed the bill on June 25, 2010, and five days later on July 1, 2010, the City of St. Louis filed suit to challenge it.
Oddly enough, St. Louis has a residency requirement for firefighters, but not for police, teachers, and certain other city employees. The mayor claims he’s not anti-firefighter, he just thinks that it should be up to the city residents to change their charter, not the state legislature.
I have not been able to read the case, but will update the blog when I do. The issue of home rule charters versus state legislative authority is a complicated one and I’ll be interested to look at the reasoning behind the decision.
Courts in many states have flip-flopped on whether state legislatures can trump home rule charters. One important factor that some courts have looked at is whether the state law being challenged is of general applicability (ie. applies throughout the state), or applies only to one community. Another consideration is whether or not the charter is a home rule charter. City of Cranston v. Hall, 118 R.I. 20, 371 A.2d 590 (R.I. 1977) (state law trumps local charter) and Local No. 799, Providence Firefighters v. Napolitano, 516 A. 2d 1347 (RI, 1986) (home rule charter trumps state law). And then there’s the Dillon Rule… (guys from Providence – its got nothing to do with Chief Dillon… don’t get your blood pressure up).
Judge John Forrest Dillon is credited with establishing the theory that municipal government owes its authority to a grant from the state. Prior to that time (1872 to be exact) many assumed that local autonomy existed independently of the state, but the scope of that autonomy was unclear. Not all states follow the Dillon Rule (another reason why I’d like to see the ruling in the St. Louis residency case), but it is generally assumed today that a municipality only has the authority that the state grants to it. Thus cases involving conflicts between charters and state statutes are really attempts to reconcile two acts of the state legislature.