ACLU fights residency law for hiring
A lawsuit says the state should not limit employees to current or former residents
A law that requires applicants for most public-sector jobs to be current or former Hawaii residents at the time of application is adversely affecting both non-residents seeking employment and the state government, a civil rights group contends.
"Damage from the pre-employment residency requirement runs not just to plaintiffs ... but also to the public interest of Hawaii's residents because (agencies) are unable to fill positions that are necessary for a well-equipped government," the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii said in a court motion filed yesterday. The motion seeks a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the residency requirements until the issue can be decided by the courts.
In July the ACLU sued the state and the City and County of Honolulu on behalf of two Florida men who said their applications for various state and county jobs were rejected solely because of the residency requirements. The federal lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, contends the residency requirements are unconstitutional and penalize nonresidents.
Attorney General Mark Bennett has said he believes the state law, upon which county hiring policies are based, is constitutional and that he will defend it, but he acknowledges the issue is an "open question" that never has been definitively decided by the courts.
City officials have declined comment on the lawsuit.
The ACLU contends plaintiffs Blane M. Wilson of Pensacola and Kevin R. Walsh of Tallahassee have suffered irreparable harm, not being able to apply for work in Hawaii. It also cites the alleged problems at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility as an example of how the law has had a "tangible and real" impact on state government.
"Despite being on notice for over two years of serious problems at HYCF, many of which are caused in part to inadequate staffing ... the state has refused to waive the pre-employment residency requirement for these positions, which have been posted since October 24, 2004," the motion states.
The ACLU in August 2003 presented a report to the state alleging that juveniles at the state prison were being kept in harsh and abusive conditions.
The U.S. Justice Department conducted its own investigation in October 2004 and reported similar findings in August. Since then, the ACLU has filed two lawsuits this year over alleged mistreatment of inmates at the youth prison.
State officials say they have made progress and are working with the Justice Department to improve the situation.
The residency requirements have been challenged before at the state level.
The Hawaii Supreme Court dismissed a case in 1986 without ruling on it, saying the issue was moot because by the time it reached the court, the person being considered for the job had fulfilled all residency requirements.