Lawmakers Introduce "Homeowners Bill of Rights"

Cross-posted at Wisconsin Watchdog.

Dave Meixner purchased property on the northern shores of Lake Pepin in the pursuit of his art.

The nature photographer saw the potential for the perfect outdoor studio.

Now he and his land are being pressed against the government’s claim of “the greater good” in a land battle that could ultimately invoke eminent domain.

The greater good in question is Bay City’s push to development a 1.1-mile walking trail along a Mississippi River inlet, a project that would claim a portion of Meixner’s land.

In April, the Bay City Village Board voted 3-2 in favor of the development plan that, to property-rights advocates “is evidence of local government overreach and a bullying use of eminent domain,” according to the Pierce County Herald.

Last month, Meixner offered a compromise proposal, a land swap. The board has yet to take the property owner up on the offer.

“We’re trying to give Bay City something better than we have now,” Board President Jim Turvaville told the publication in an April 20 story.

But the proposed trail – now in the conceptual phase – would come at a cost to Meixner, his business, his art, his dreams.

It is on Meixner’s land, where Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, and Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, will introduce their “Homeowners’ Bill of Rights.”

The lawmakers will tour Meixner’s property Wednesday morning and then hold a press conference at 10:20 a.m., laying out what Jarchow said he hopes will become the first step toward a package of legislation strengthening individual property rights.

“There are two overriding principles we have looked at. One, we want to make home ownership more available and more affordable … and we want you to be able to keep and enjoy your home,” Jarchow said.

The legislators said there are too many obstacles to the American Dream, thanks in large part to excessive government regulations.

“Unfortunately, the creep of overbearing government at all levels has imperiled property rights and homeownership,” Tiffany and Jarchow said in a joint statement. “It’s time for reform that protects and defends homeowners and by extension, the American Dream.”

Among the goals outlined in the proposed “Homeowners’ Bill of Rights” is eminent domain reform. The issue gets to the heart of Meixner’s land battle.

“We are dismayed to hear stories of Wisconsinites being subjected to the taking of their homes or property by the all-powerful government in order to build amenities like parks and trails,” the lawmakers said. “Parks and trails are good for Wisconsin, but not at the expense of someone’s home. It is time to protect homes from government land-grabs.”

Legislation also would deal with takings driven by government regulation. The lawmakers say governments should be prepared to compensate homeowners for rights infringements through “non-essential regulation.”

The initiative also seeks to reduce regulatory barriers to homebuyers, the lawmakers said. A National Association of Home Builders study show that, on average, government regulations make up 24.3 percent of the final price of a new single-family home.

“Regulations are necessary for the public good, however, distinguishing regulations that protect and serve the public good, despite their negative effects on housing prices, from other regulatory barriers is a challenge,” the “Bill of Rights” press release states.

The initiative also addresses the importance of controlling property taxes; the expansion of broadband access through cutting bureaucratic red tape; and implementing policies that support energy security and affordability.

“It doesn’t do much good to own a home if you can’t heat it or pay the light bill,” the lawmakers said.

And the rights proposal delves into privacy issues, the concept of “grandfathering” property rights to survive the test of time, and the continued loosening of overly restrictive Smart Growth laws.

“We will continue to build on the successes of the previous session, specifically 2015 Wisconsin Act 391 related to conditional use permits not needing to be consistent with a the local unit of governments comprehensive plan and the enacting of a ‘down zoning ordinance,’” the lawmakers said.

Jarchow said the plan is to begin the discussion on the principles, and then turn those ideas into bills to be introduced when the new session begins in January.

The lawmaker said he has heard too many horror stories of property owners losing their dreams to the overreaching hands of government.

“The fear on the face of property owners when they believe they are going to lose a family cabin or a house is indescribable,” he said. “You are being punished as a property owner.”

Print this article Back to Top