Lift ban on nonresidents for county, state jobs
A ruling is expected next week on the constitutionality of a law baring out-of-state residents from applying for public employment.
HAWAII'S worker shortage requires many companies to seek people from the mainland to fill job openings, but nonresidents are forbidden from being hired by the county and state governments. The nonsensical law is being challenged in court
, but the Legislature should repeal it regardless of the pending legal ruling.
The embargo was enacted during the 1970s, ostensibly because of concerns that an influx of newcomers would overwhelm the islands. The law was trimmed from three-year and one-year residency requirements to finally dump all nonresidents into the need-not-apply category. Both the city and state recently removed a provision that exempted former Hawaii residents from the ban.
The American Civil Liberties Union maintains that the ban is unconstitutionally discriminatory, and U.S. District Judge David Ezra calls the law "a troubled one with a troubled history." The state Supreme Court dismissed a similar case 10 years ago only because the job applicant had met residency requirements by the time his lawsuit reached the high court.
Plaintiffs in the current case are Florida residents Blane M. Wilson of Pensacola and Kevin R. Walsh of Tallahassee, both represented by the ACLU. Wilson applied to be a police evidence specialist with the city Department of Human Resources, while Walsh sought a computer job with the city.
Both men actually live in Hawaii but have retained their legal residences in Florida. A retired military officer, Wilson accompanied his military wife to her new station in Hawaii.
Hawaii's unemployment rate last year averaged 2.8 percent, the lowest in the nation. That is far below the rate of full employment -- considered to be no lower than 4 percent -- at which everyone who is able and willing to work has a job or is between jobs.
An obstacle such as a residency requirement is needless and absurd, sending a signal with racial "locals only" overtones to many mainland residents. While private employers are offering incentives such as better health care, retirement plans and recruitment bonuses to lure workers to Hawaii, the city and state governments are slamming the door in their faces.
Attorney General Mark Bennett cites a study showing that 44 percent of newcomers left their jobs in the Honolulu Police Department and the University of Hawaii, which are exempt from the ban, within 21 months, while only 18 percent of Hawaii resident applicants resigned. That shows a need for increased screening.
Bennett also contends that the ban is allowed by the U.S. Constitution, and that issue is unclear. Even if Bennett prevails, legislators and Governor Lingle should heed Judge Ezra's suggestion that they pay "careful attention" to the issue.