Residency requirement for public jobs rejected
A federal judge has ruled against a 27-year-old law banning out-of-state residents from applying for public jobs in Hawaii.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra granted the American Civil Liberties Union an injunction Wednesday to prohibit the state from enforcing the requirement.
Ezra still needs to issue a formal written order before it can take effect. The state has the option to appeal.
State Attorney General Mark Bennett said the law would be lifted for now, meaning non-Hawaii residents will be allowed to apply for government jobs in the islands.
Bennett said the state would wait for the Legislature to respond to the ruling before deciding what other action to take.
The ACLU Hawaii chapter, which says the law is discriminatory, is representing two Florida residents, Kevin Walsh and Blane Wilson, who did not qualify for government jobs in Hawaii. A lawsuit was filed in June.
"It's a law that's infringing on constitutional rights of nonresidents," said Lois Perrin, ACLU's legal director.
The unique law requires applicants for state or county jobs to be Hawaii residents. Enacted in 1978, its original goal was to discourage people from moving to the islands when officials feared new residents would deplete state resources.
Perrin said the law is preventing some 450 vacant government jobs from being filled. Hawaii had the lowest unemployment in the nation last year at 2.8 percent.
"There have been hundreds of people that have been rejected," she said. "By increasing our applicant pool and encouraging people to move here, we are all going to be better served."
Walsh was turned down to be a computer analyst for the city. Wilson, who lives in Hawaii but still holds Florida residency, was prevented from applying for a police evidence job and other public health positions with the state, Perrin said.
Anne Williams, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU, said, "This was a bad law inconsistent with Hawaii's unique aloha spirit and an obstacle to its ability to benefit from and compete in the global economy."
Bennett has defended the law by citing a study that found nonresidents hired for government work under exemptions of the law were two times more likely to quit.
The law has exemptions for police officers and University of Hawaii employees. It also allows authorities to make other exemptions for such jobs as teachers, clinical psychologists and veterinarians.
But Perrin said the exemptions cause another problem.
"It's not uniformly applied at all," she said.