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Does Wisconsin Understand Rights?

Written By: Travis Buhler  |  Posted: Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

            Recently, two Republican state legislators, Senator Tom Tiffany and Assemblyman Adam Jarchow, released a "Homeowners Bill of Rights." They said in a statement,

            "Home ownership is the foundation of the American Dream. Studies consistently show that homeowners enjoy a significantly higher net worth than non-homeowners. That is why we believe more should be done to protect and encourage families to become homeowners. Unfortunately, the creep of overbearing government at all levels has imperiled property rights and home ownership. It's time for reform that protects and defends home owners and by extension, the American Dream."

            The MacIver Institute summarized their ten "rights" as provisions to…

            "1) Control property taxes
            "2) Increase broadband access
            "3) Make the supply and delivery system for propane affordable
            "4) Provide property owners additional protections from "takings"
            "5) Reform unreasonable regulations that threaten property rights
            "6) Reduce regulatory barriers for homebuyers
            "7) Protect your "right to fly the flag"
            "8) Require a warrant based on probable cause for any search of a property
            "9) Broaden the concept of grandfathering
            "10) Inject a private property rights element into the Smart Growth program"

            Is this initiative a bold declaration of how government should protect our property rights in the modern age? Or is it more political promises to provide homeowners with taxpayer funded goodies? Whatever their intentions, the authors have declared both as true.

            There are different types of rights or things a person is entitled to have. They vary depending on what authority gives them and to who they give them.  A parent can give a child the right to ride their bicycle around town. A will gives an inheritor the right to an inheritance. A gift certificate gives the possessor the right to obtain goods of the same value.

            But the controversy that arises with this homeowners bill of rights is: where do these rights come from, and does the issuer of these rights have the authority to grant them? What of this initiative's rights come from God, and which ones are promised to homeowners by the government, whom the two legislators represent?

            Many of the property rights listed are inherent to all people and given to us by nature's God. The commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," best summarizes God's original intention that one is given the right to enjoy what he owns, and no one should take it from him - even the government. Any laws that limit or eliminate the government's taking of property (eminent domain), or the regulating away of peaceful enjoyment of property, or the warrant-less invasion of property are good things.

            But does this list address the larger threats to property rights? Keeping property taxes lower does not end the government's power to take away the property if a person cannot pay the taxes. In normal situations, people issue liens on property when they are owed money. But the government today has the power to just take it.

            Adding a property rights clause to "Smart Growth" laws does nothing to eliminate a law that by its very name threatens property rights. If the government can define what is "smart" and what is "growth" and use laws to force those who want to do otherwise with their own property, then such laws are inherently evil.

            And while the "right to fly the flag" sounds patriotic, such a law would violates the right of homeowners to covenant themselves into homeowners associations. This almost contradicts the idea of a homeowners' bill of rights.

            The rest of the rights are not inherently from God, but are only able to be given to homeowners by the government having the power to take property from someone else. Increasing broadband access not only requires the government to take away money from taxpayers, but sometimes requires the government to take away portions of private property in order to install the necessary cables and fibers. The same thing can be said of increasing the supply of fuel.

           Finally, the legislator's use of the word "rights" when talking about making home ownership easy can cause confusion. Do we have a right to broadband and propane because this encourages home ownership? This is similar to the argument over the right to health-care. Yes, we have the God-given right to purchase broadband, propane, and health-care, but God has not given us the right to force others to pay for them. This is the main fault with most government-given rights. They force others to provide them for you.

            Perhaps Jarchow and Tiffany are sugar-coating some good things with proposals that make those on the other side happy as well. Perhaps they are wiser than myself and know how to get things done rather than being the purist like I am.

            Perhaps, though, they have failed to understand what an inherent right really is. It was only last year when Adam Jarchow introduced a "right to hunt" bill, which was based on the assumption that hunters have greater access to public forest lands compared to protestors. Does the government have the power to limit free speech on public lands, even if it bothers hunters on the same public land? Should the government even provide land for hunters for hunting purposes?

            We live in a day when people vote for the politician who will give them things rather than protect their rights. The Homeowners Bill of Rights exemplifies this.

            Travis Buhler is the Managing Editor of the US Journal and the Eau Claire Journal and a regular Tuesday contributor to the 790WAYY Today morning show. Email:


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