Youngstown's mayor testified, saying the legislation would severely harm Ohio's urban areas.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS -- Local government employees may soon be able to live anywhere they want and still keep their jobs if legislation eliminating residency requirements passes the Ohio General Assembly.
The measure was approved 14-2 Thursday by the House Local and Municipal Government and Urban Revitalization Committee.
Mayors or representatives from several Ohio cities, including Youngstown and Toledo, urged the committee not to pass the measure.
Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams said the legislation is unconstitutional and would severely harm Ohio's urban areas.
"I am deeply perplexed as to why many members of this assembly are so intent to carry forward this unconstitutional assault on our state constitution, specifically at the expense of our state's urban centers," Williams said.
"Our urban centers are already withering under a continuous decline of financial support from the state level. This legislative move will only serve to put another nail in the coffin of many of our cities."
Williams said the issue is one of safety, economics and social benefits, as well as an issue that should be decided by local voters -- not by the state.
Mass exodus feared
After the committee meeting, Williams said he believes the legislation will lead to a mass exodus of "highly paid employees." He said with them would go the disposable income. He said their leaving would also show a lack of confidence in the city.
"If municipal employees desire to live outside of the municipal jurisdiction, they are free to do so and pursue gainful employment elsewhere," Williams told the committee. "The individual employees who accepted gainful employment with our municipalities did so with full knowledge that residency was a requirement."
Passage of the legislation would lead to a lawsuit by local governments, according to opponents.
Williams said several municipalities have said they will band together in a lawsuit to overturn the measure and Williams said Youngstown would be among them.
"If this bill passes you will leave us with no other choice than to seek relief from the justice system all the way up to the state and or federal supreme courts," he told the committee.
Arguments of proponents
Committee members who support the legislation said they believe it is necessary. Committee members said they have heard from those who would benefit from living outside of the area because of safety and other concerns.
Williams acknowledged he's heard from Youngstown employees who support the legislation or who wish to live elsewhere while working for the city.
"I'm very sensitive to their issues," he said after the meeting. "They need to look at the bigger issues."
Williams was in Columbus to meet with Gov. Bob Taft and other new mayors from around the state and extended his trip when he learned the committee would be hearing the bill. The legislation may not appear before the whole House for a few weeks while supporters work to gain more support for the bill.