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St. Louis city, state will take residency law dispute to the Supreme Court

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(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
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Mayor Francis Slay is proposing major changes to the firefighter's pension system that could reduce benefits for new hires.

The state of Missouri and the city of St. Louis will go in front of the state Supreme Court on Thursday to argue over who can decide where city employees live.

The 2010 law allows firefighters who work for a department in an unaccredited school district to move outside that city after seven years. The St. Louis city charter says all city employees must live in the city as long as they're employed, with a few exceptions.

A judge in Jefferson City called the law an encroachment on the rights of a charter city, and threw it out. The state appealed that decision - a position supported by the city's firefighters union.

Attorney Nick Frey with Stinson Morrison Hecker filed the brief on behalf of the firefighters.

"The constitution specifically prohibits the state from regulating the powers, duties or compensation of charter city employees, and frankly, a residency requirement is neither a power, duty, or compensation of an employee," Frey said.

In fact, Frey and the state argue the law deals more with public education and public safety - two areas within the state's jurisdiction. Easing the residency restrictions, he said, could encourage qualified firefighters to remain in the city even when their children reach school age.

"It's an issue both with employees leaving the St. Louis Fire Department, and not even seeking employment within the department knowing that they would have to reside within an unaccredited school district," Frey said.

The trial judge rejected that argument, but agreed with the state that the law was of a general enough nature to be constitutional.

St. Louis city police are already allowed to reside outside of the city after seven years. The state-appointed oversight board approved that change in 2005.  

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