Members of the Tennessee Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday voted to advance Senate Bill 29 to allow first responders to live where they choose, allowing the bill to be placed on the calendar Thursday for the Senate.
Sponsored by State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), the legislation would ban residency requirements statewide for police officers and firefighters, the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus said in a statement. Kelsey said the bill is a matter of public safety and will allow police and fire departments to recruit top-tier first responder candidates, regardless of where they live. The lawmaker said, in particular, it will help Tennessee address a deficit of police officers occurring throughout the country.
“This bill will support our police, fire officers, and emergency medical service workers who keep us safe by allowing them to live where they choose,” said Kelsey. “This bill will increase public safety by enabling us to hire more police officers, which will help us fight our rising crime rates.”
When Kelsey filed the bill on Jan. 6, he said, “This is a public safety bill. It will enable us to hire more police officers, which will help us fight our rising crime rates,” The Tennessee Star reported.
State Representative Jerome Moon (R-Maryville), who is sponsoring the bill in the House of Representatives, said, “Removing residency requirements will greatly expand the pool of highly qualified applicants.”
The new bill would seek to remedy the lack of law enforcement officers by applying the practices adopted by many local police departments statewide, the caucus said. The Municipal Technical Advisory Service says that most cities in Tennessee have moved away from residency requirements due to difficulties in recruiting.
The measure has received support from legislators and community leaders throughout Shelby County.
“Like many police departments, we continue to struggle with staffing,” said Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings. “Although we work hard to hire within Shelby County, it is unrealistic to believe that we will be able to increase our number of officers if we do not broaden our scope of candidates. Dropping the residency requirement would allow us to hire more individuals who want to serve our great city.”
Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association, said, “This law will help us keep our citizens safe by allowing us to hire an untapped group of the best and brightest candidates from across the entire region. Potential fire fighters won’t need to weigh their desire to protect the public against forcing their family to uproot and move due to an antiquated residency requirement.”
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.