Wisconsin lawmakers, left aghast at a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed the government to limit a family’s use of their private land, have adopted a new law that effectively overturns the court decision.
The Murr family went to court when they sought to sell a vacant parcel of land originally purchased by their parents, only to find new local regulations adopted after the purchase meant they couldn’t sell the land or even improve it.
It was a simple case of government adopting after the fact new regulations and imposing them in a manner that deprived the family of their property rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed that was the appropriate result.
Not so with state lawmakers, who, according to the Heartland Institute, have set in place a “Homeowners’ Bill of Rights,” consisting of two laws passed in November and signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
The intent, the report by H. Sterling Burnett explains, is “to prevent local governments from limiting property owners’ use of their lands.”
One law allows “property owners to build on and sell lots of ‘substandard’ size if they were legal when created.”
The law also prohibits local governments from merging adjacent lots that share the same owner without the owner’s permission and makes it easier for property owners to get conditional-use permits and variances, maintain nonconforming structures and dredge private ponds.
The aim is to allow the owners to use the property as it was intended when they purchased it.
The second law lets owners “appeal assessments when a homeowner refuses to let the assessor inside the house, and to hang the American flag even if condominium or homeowner association rules would prohibit it.”
The Heartland report explains the laws, sponsored by state Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, and state Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, effectively overturned a June 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The Murr case developed because regulators ordered that the family’s two waterfront lots had to be treated as a single parcel, based on local regulations adopted long after the family had purchased the two lots. The family had intended that one lot be improved with a cabin and used as a family retreat, and the other to be saved and sold later.
The family discovered, however, they had no right to sell the second parcel, which, according to rules enacted later, was too small for development.
This was despite the fact they continued to pay a separate property tax assessment on the second lot.
Heartland said the U.S. Supreme Court “held local regulators could treat two neighboring waterfront lots owned by the same family as if they were a single parcel of property, and thus didn’t owe the property owners compensation for a taking when they were prevented from selling or developing one of the lots because of a change in state law.”
Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, concluding: “Put simply, today’s decision knocks the definition of ‘private property’ loose from its foundation on stable state law rules. [The ruling] compromises the Takings Clause as a barrier between individuals and the press of the public interest.”
Rep. Jarchow explained that the “Homeowners’ Bill of Rights” is “meant to right that wrong by ensuring when people buy property, and they have expectations related to that property, their property rights and expectations are not taken away because of changing rules or regulations over time.”
The Pacific Legal Foundation represented the family in court.
John Groen, PLF general counsel, said: “All of us at Pacific Legal Foundation are very pleased with the legislative progress. … Special thanks to Rep. Adam Jarchow and Sen. Tom Tiffany for recognizing the need to restore property rights for the Murrs and the people of Wisconsin.”
When the high court’s decision was released, WND reported on the beginning of a legislative effort to effectively nullify the decision.
The stated goal was to prohibit “government from inventing ways to strip people of the use of their property while denying them the compensation that the Constitution requires.”
At the time, Donna Murr declared, “What happened to my family should not happen to any American, and the Supreme Court’s ruling must not be the final word.”
Pacific Justice said at the time it intended to go nationwide to seek court rulings and legal changes “that will ensure that property owners cannot be denied their constitutional rights simply because they own adjacent property or because local land use regulations might subsequently change.”