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New Jersey Mandates Public Employees Live in State

J.C. Palmer of Huron raised the issue of public employee residence in an earlier comment section. Now New Jersey Governor Chris Christie raises the question of public employees' freedom to live where they want by signing a bill requiring public workers to live in New Jersey:

Gov. Chris Christie announced today he signed a bill (S1730) into law that will require public workers hired after Sept. 1 — from teachers and cops to all local, county and state work employees — to live in the Garden State.

New hires outside the state's borders will have a year from getting the job to pack up and move. Current public workers will not be affected.

New Jersey is the first state in the nation to enact a law mandating a residency requirement for its public employees, according to National Conference of State Legislatures. Pennsylvania law requires only its civil service employees to live within the state, according to the New Jersey Senate Majority officials.

"With this law we are simply saying that as matter of policy, when it comes to providing public employment opportunities in New Jersey, we are looking to put our own residents first," said Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), one of the bill's sponsors. "This will help to support our workforce, while at the same time keeping our tax dollars in the state. This is not only sound public policy, but it makes good economic sense" [Matt Friedman, "Gov. Christie signs bill requiring all new public employees to move to N.J. within year of hire,", 2011.05.19].

On first reading, this government mandate on its employees seems a remarkable intrusion on individual liberty outside the workplace. Certainly my boss, whether public or private, has the right to tell me when and where I will work. While I'm there on the clock, my boss can tell me what I can do and say (within certain Constitutional boundaries).

But this residency mandate says that my employer can tell me what to do with the two-thirds of my time each day that he doesn't pay me for. It limits one of the most personally defining choices a person can make, what place to call home. If a Manhattan resident just happens to find work she likes across the bridge at a New Jersey public school, can the state of New Jersey really order her to abandon her Manhattan apartment?

The residency mandate also smells of discrimination. Can South Dakota really declare that it will only hire South Dakotans for certain jobs? We have immigration rules that allow us to hire only American citizens and not foreigners, but what immigration rules give states authority to exclude Minnesotans, Iowegians, and other such semi-exotic outsiders?

As oppressive gravy, Republican Christie seems to be trumping local control. The law applies not just to his direct employees, but to local governments as well. Put that in South Dakota terms: imagine Governor Daugaard told the school districts in Brookings, Flandreau, and Brandon that they couldn't hire teachers who happen to have nice houses across the border in Minnesota. Whither local control, Republicans?

New Jersey's employee residency mandate goes too far. As long as an employee is a legal citizen, and as long as that employee shows up for work on time, where that employee spends her off-duty hours is none of the employer's business.


  1. Nate 2011.05.23

    Cory, there are many local governments that require firefighters, ems, and law enforcement to live in or within a range of city limits for the job. This is nothing new. You should check other states (including South Dakota) these requirements have been on the books for decades.

  2. mike 2011.05.23

    The SD GOP should've enacted this policy before they voted Rave into Chairman...

  3. Chris S. 2011.05.23

    Municipal employees for emergency services are one thing; they have to respond at a moment's notice. However, why should a state get to tell someone working a desk job, or working as a teacher (for example), where they get to live?

    For example: Suppose a family lives in Dakota Dunes. Both husband and wife work as teachers in Dakota Dunes. However, the husband loses his job because of "downsizing," and the only job he can find is in Sioux City. If Iowa had a law that all Iowa teachers had to live in Iowa, does he have to forego the job or else move the family to Iowa? And if the family moves, would the wife lose her job if South Dakota had a similar "residents only" policy?

    I sort of understand the argument for emergency workers, because proximity is needed for quick response. (That said, the argument doesn't always hold water. If someone lives in South Yankton, Nebraska, are they ineligible to be a fireman or policeman in Yankton?)

    However, the policy makes no economic sense. You might as well put up a border fence between Omaha and Council Bluffs, and divide the Quad Cities between Iowa and Illinois. Not to mention the New York-New Jersey dilemma, or anyplace where lots of people live in an urban area that sprawls across state lines, like Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington. Or Philadelphia and northern Delaware. Or Maryland and northern Virginia. Or Kansas City. Or St. Louis. Or Cincinnati or Louisville. Et cetera.
    Artificially partitioning metropolitan areas would be a nightmare anytime someone lost a job or was looking for a job. Not to mention that whole "interstate commerce" constitutional problem.

  4. Lee Schoenbeck 2011.05.23

    There are munincipalities that do this for more than just emergency response reasons, and there isn't anything unusual about this requirement. It looks like it had bi-partisan support, for an obvious reason. The taxpayers want their tax dollars spent on their residents. As I read this, otehrs can get hired, they just have to relocate to the state that is paying them --- that doesn't sound very onerous and does sound kind of obvious to this average joe.

  5. Chris S. 2011.05.23

    To me it sounds like Big Government telling you where to live.

  6. Lee Schoenbeck 2011.05.23

    but an easy one to avoid - don't take their money

  7. Chris S. 2011.05.23

    Right. Because it's always easy to find a good job, and even easier to uproot one's family to move to another state.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.05.23

    Lee, Nate, "usual" doesn't make it right. Chris is right that emergency responders are very different from teachers and the other local public employees affect by this bill. I might argue that in New Jersey, even some emergency responders may be able to get to their jobs just as quickly from right across the border as from wherever they can find an affordable house in-state.

    And Lee, sure, taxpayers want to get their money's worth. They get their money's worth from the work the employees do. Consider me: the state pays me $32K a year to do research and teach classes. I perform those duties. South Dakota hands me a check. At that point, the money is mine, not the taxpayers'. I am free to do whatever I want with it: buy a house in Pipestone, fritter it away gambling, or donate every penny to Dennis Kucinich and Planned Parenthood. Why do you support letting government intrude further in public employees' lives?

  9. tonyamert 2011.05.24

    This is basic human nature rearing its head again in a pointless fashion. When groups get too big most people just can't handle it. They're trying to make an arbitrary distinction and say that this is where their group ends.

    My guess is that this will eventually be challenged and stopped by a someone based on the interstate commerce clause. States can't tariff other states. This is a tariff since it's arbitrary and can't be justified based on need.

  10. Lauri 2011.05.24

    I don't think it's unreasonable. If they were saying the move had to be made before starting the job, that would be unreasonable. however, the employee is given a year to relocate.

  11. Wayne B. 2011.05.24

    I might be more inclined to say this is okay if the public entity compensated folks for having to relocate... but this definitely rubs me the wrong way.

    It's one thing to require top-level officials to live in the state/community they serve... it's another to require everyone to do so - folks without the means.

  12. Lauri 2011.05.24

    I haven't followed the links, but from what Cory shared, we don't know that there isn't reimbursement for moving expenses.

  13. Pamela 2011.06.01

    It seems discriminatory in that I think it's designed to keep New York City'ers from taking New Jersey's jobs. When I tried living in NYC I found all the jobs that weren't picky about who they hired - i.e. displaced homemakers, kids fresh out of college, etc - were all over in New Jersey. New York's jobs seemed too damn picky and New Jersey's less so. I was perfectly willing to move there but it seems that now the application says you have to already live there to even apply. What really sucks about that is that New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the three states around here with the most lengthy laws against employers checking your credit; so of the only three states where someone with bad credit (from lengthy unemployment) can GET a job, two of them require you to live there before you can even apply. And live where, without a job?!

  14. Julian R 2011.06.28

    Time for some 21st C. vision from a governor who seems to be talking to a national audience. A trampling of personal freedom in a misguided attempt to ameliorate decades of corruption? Get real governor...NY and PA are not NJ's enemies;. All the states need each other across all 'borders'. Better to rise to the times rather than dismanteling American values.

  15. Nicole 2011.07.21

    I am affected directly by this new law. I have nearly 10 years of service as an educator in NJ public schools, as both a resident of NJ and NY. My family moved to NY 4 years ago to buy a home with my mother (major health concerns) and continued working in NJ until my position was eliminated due to budget shortfalls. I have been trying to return to teaching for over a year, and am being told now that, while I may be the most qualified candidate for a position, I cannot be hired unless I relocate my family to NJ, which is less than a quarter-mile from my home. I shop in NJ, pay taxes in NJ, and have spent many years and thousands of dollars in higher education, state-required testing and licensing fees for my New Jersey instructional certificates, which allow me to teach ONLY in NJ. (NY offers some reciprocity, but that is another time-consuming, costly application process.)

    If the only argument for requiring teachers to live in-state is to keep their money there, then what's to stop the government from telling you that NJ residents/public workers can't shop, attend college, vacation outside of NJ? You cannot compare the need for first-responders to live within a specific perimeter of their employment with prohibiting people who have paid thousands to NJ for NJ education and NJ teaching licenses from living anywhere but NJ. It's a dangerous precedent that's been set here.

  16. james 2011.07.21

    How many New York public employees live in New Jersey? Imagine if New York enacted the same law. How many taxpayers would New Jersey loose then!?

  17. oater2 2011.11.18

    we have been talking about teachers and emergency personnel; what about seasonal employees like lifeguards in many of the resort towns at the Jersey Shore????

  18. Linda DePeri 2012.12.13

    You've got to be crazy. What happen to Republicans not liking big government. It this is not big government then what is? This is huge government.

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