Milwaukee can no longer require municipal employees to live in the city, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court ruled 5-2 that Milwaukee’s 78-year-old residency rule for its more than 7,000 city workers was superseded by a 2013 state law banning such requirements. The decision overturned a state appeals court ruling in 2015.
Milwaukee’s residency requirements have not been enforced since 2013, while the city and local police and fire unions engaged in a lawsuit over its enforcement.
The decision will allow Milwaukee police officers, firefighters, public school teachers and other city workers to live in neighboring communities.
In the decision, Justice Michael Gableman, wrote on behalf of the majority that the 2013 state law “precludes the city from enforcing its residency requirement,” arguing that “the Legislature has the power to legislate on matters of local affairs when its enactment uniformly affects every city or every village, notwithstanding the home rule amendment.”
Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson dissented, arguing that Wisconsin’s Home Rule Amendment gives Milwaukee greater autonomy over local affairs and the power to self-govern.
The decision was praised by leaders of local police and fire unions.
“We’re very thankful to the state’s highest court in the decision upholding the original law signed into effect on July 1, 2013,” said Milwaukee Professional Firefighters president David Seager. “It has been an arduous journey; however … this is a victory for all municipal employees in the state of Wisconsin.”
Milwaukee Police Association president Michael Crivello said, “Today’s Supreme Court decision was both right and just. It made clear that Wisconsin municipal employees share the same right enjoyed by all other Wisconsin citizens to reside where they desire.”
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett condemned the court’s decision, saying the state’s Legislature and Supreme Court have disrespected 75 years of precedent regarding city autonomy.
“It is a sad day for Wisconsin, because this Supreme Court has just ripped away local control,” Barrett said. “Obviously, I’m angry about this decision because the impact it has on this community. But the citizens of this state should be concerned when you have one party that controls every lever of power … this is not the Wisconsin that we have lived in before.”