It is past time to end state employee residency requirements, Wirths and Space say

It is past time to end state employee residency requirements, Wirths and Space say

Hal Wirths

TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey has a state employee recruitment problem.

A Jan. 23 report published by the N.J. Association of School Administrators found that education is “at a precipice,” with schools unable to provide the constitutionally required thorough and efficient education to all students. Why? There is a dearth of highly qualified educators to fill the state’s classrooms. Among the report’s 34 recommendations to combat this shortage is the state ending its in-state residency requirements for educators.

Assemblymen Hal Wirths and Parker Space want to take that recommendation a step further by eliminating that requirement for most state employees. Their bill (A148) would give teachers and other public employees the freedom to live where they choose.

“I’ve been against this requirement since the beginning, and have been fighting to get this law changed for years,” Wirths (R-Sussex) said. “As commissioner of Labor, I saw this devastation this caused employees and their families. We are tying good people’s hands behind their backs, asking them to choose between caring for a sick relative out-of-state or moving with a spouse, or choosing their careers in state government. It’s inhumane.”

The New Jersey First Act went into effect Sept. 1, 2011. The rationale championed by its proponents said public workers paid by New Jersey taxpayers should themselves be resident taxpayers. State jobs should be given to state residents. Exceptions could be sought through the state’s Employee Residency Review Committee, a four-person panel that evaluates whether an employee’s situation is “critical need or hardship” to free them from the law’s constraints.

The law has created a shortage of workers. The first major crisis arrived in 2018 when NJ Transit complained it could not find train engineers, conductors, rail maintenance workers or bus drivers. Now that shortage has hit state classrooms.

The committee in September 2018 approved a blanket exemption for NJ Transit. While no such overreaching exemption has been floated for teachers, a superior court judge in March 2021 found the law unconstitutional in the case of a tenured Somerville English teacher who had moved out of state with her boyfriend. However, that ruling did not strike down the law.

“Of course we need to tackle the affordability problem New Jersey has, which is driving out and keeping out good workers. But in the meantime, we lawmakers have a free and easy solution to a problem lawmakers created: repeal this terrible law,” Space (R-Sussex) said.