Missouri’s attorney general is no longer required to live in the Capital City.
Earlier this week, Gov. Mike Parson signed Senate Bill 53 and repealed the statute requiring the state’s attorney general must “reside at the seat of government.”
The Missouri Constitution designates Jefferson City as the seat of government.
The state’s residency requirement made headlines after now-U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley was elected attorney general in 2016. At the time, Hawley lived about 24 miles north of Jefferson City in southern Columbia, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
A spokesperson for Hawley said the statute refers to where the Office of the Attorney General resides, not where the attorney general lives. Hawley rented an apartment in Jefferson City soon after.
The law maintains the Attorney General’s Office must be at the Missouri Supreme Court building.
As of Friday afternoon, a representative of Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office was not available for comment.
SB 53 sponsor state Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, said the provision came from the House, but there have been multiple attempts to repeal the requirement since he was elected in 2018.
“This has been something that’s been filed for several years,” Luetkemeyer said. “The attorney general is the only statewide elected official that has a residency requirement for the city of Jefferson City.”
Missouri’s governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state and state auditor don’t have residency requirements solidified by law, so Luetkemeyer said the provision helps statewide official requirements stay consistent.
“I think there was a sense that there needed to be some type of equity in terms of how residency was applied for the statewide officials,” Luetkemeyer said.
Similar provisions to repeal the residency requirement have historically been attached to various public safety bills. Luetkemeyer said the amendment was likely attached to SB 53 because the legislation was one of a few likely to make it past the finish line and onto the governor’s desk.
The provision repealing the residency requirement first showed up in SB 53’s conference committee substitute passed in mid-May.
Minority Floor Leader Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence, sat on the conference committee for SB 53 and said the provision didn’t come up in discussion.
“It was never brought to a crux during the debate on what should stay in and what shouldn’t, and understandably, so once you look at that bill, there was a lot of other, way more controversial things that stole the show,” Rizzo said.
State Rep. Rudy Veit, vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the issues Hawley faced with the requirement led to the legislation’s creation.
He said eliminating the requirement was necessary to make expectations more realistic in the modern age.
“At one time, it was important they all live right here in Jeff City, and I still want them to live here in Jeff City — I would prefer they did — but certainly that does not impair their ability to do a great job as attorney general if they live 30 miles down the road or something,” Veit said.
SB 53 House handler state Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, agreed the requirement was outdated.
He said it dates back to a time when transportation was altogether different and puts an unnecessary hardship on potential candidates for attorney general.
“I tried to imagine what purpose that serves,” Roberts said. “As long as that statute’s on the books, whether it made sense or not, it would be a violation of the law, so the answer to that was to repeal that law.”