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Legislature passes bill to remove residency requirements for first responders

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The Tennessee House of Representatives on Monday, March 14, voted to agree to the Senate version of a bill that removes the residency requirement for first responders statewide.

Senate Bill 29, sponsored by State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Majority Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), bans the residency requirements for police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services workers everywhere in the state except Hamilton County.

The Senate approved Kelsey’s bill last March. The House subsequently passed a version of the bill that applied only to Memphis, but the House on Monday joined the Senate in passing the bill that applies statewide.

Gov. Bill Lee is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.

“With this law, I believe Memphis could quickly hire a hundred new police officers,” Kelsey said in a release. “The Memphis Police Department is over 500 officers short of the staffing goal set by the Memphis City Council.”

Memphis currently requires candidates to become police officers to live within Shelby County.

The bill is co-sponsored by Shelby County legislators Sen. Paul Rose (R-Covington), and Reps. John Gillespie (R- Memphis), Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington), Mark White (R-Memphis), and Kevin Vaughan (R-Collierville).

Essica Cage, president of the Memphis Police Association, said the law will allow Memphis “to be more competitive in recruiting, hiring and retaining police officers from a larger geographic area. Simply put, the lifting of residency requirements will translate into more boots on the ground to help curb rising violent crime rates and keep citizens safer.”

“Loosening the residency requirement for local law enforcement and other first responders is a key part of the new five-year Safe Community Action Plan,” said Bill Gibbons, president of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. “The severe shortage of police officers must receive priority. The General Assembly’s action will provide an important tool in recruitment and retention efforts.”

“Eliminating residency requirements provides public safety agencies with an opportunity to consider a broader selection of candidates who have a desire to serve the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County,” said Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner. “This public safety-focused measure supports the interest of law enforcement and fire services leaders from across the state in providing safe communities for all Tennesseans.”

“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,” said Thomas Malone, president of the Memphis Fire Fighters Association. “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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