CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – “It’s a Memphis problem and they’re trying to solve it with a statewide bill.”
State Senator Bill Kelsey pushed for a floor vote last week for a bill that would lift all residency requirements for first responders statewide.
Since then, the bill has run into some resistance from other state legislators including Chattanooga’s Todd Gardenhire.
Gardenhire says that the bill came at the urging of Memphis city officials who cited a shortage of police officers and wanted to be able to hire officers from outside the county and even the state to recruit first responders from Mississippi and Arkansas.
“Senator Kelsey’s bill at the request of Memphis who sits on the border of Arkansas and Mississippi wants to be able to recruit anywhere they want to. I don’t have any problem with Memphis doing that but there’s a federal court order that we can’t go against,” says Senator Gardenhire.
That federal court order in question refers to a 1990 ruling by Judge R. Allen Edgar enforcing that Chattanooga city employees live in Tennessee.
City Attorney Phil Noblett says that the reasoning behind this order had to do with unnecessary tax burdens that would have been put on Chattanooga residents.
“Here in Chattanooga, our restriction was only that they had to be a resident of the state of Tennessee, and the rationale at that point in time in the early nineties was that there was a concern about how much accounting issues there would be involved in dealing with the withholding taxes for both the state of Alabama and the state of Georgia here that would be applicable to city employees and that would be paid for by the taxpayers of the city of Chattanooga to be able to do that and accomplish that,” explains Noblett.
As amended, the bill prohibits a local government from dismissing or penalizing first responders for not living within the local government’s jurisdiction.
Local governments, however, could still have a standard requiring that out-of-town employees be able to respond to an emergency within a specific time period.