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Senate passes bill freeing family from SCOTUS ruling

A land-use bill that would reroute state law around a U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared a major hurdle Tuesday.

On a voice vote, the Wisconsin Senate passed the measure, which waives land-use restrictions that prevented a family from selling a small parcel of their St. Croix River-side land. Lawmakers stepped in after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Murr family’s claim that St. Croix County’s laws governing the sale of the land were unconstitutional.

The bill passed Tuesday, which now awaits Assembly action, allows so-called substandard lots like the Murrs’ to be grandfathered in.

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout opposed the bill during Tuesday’s session, reading from a St. Croix County Board resolution passed earlier in the day that urged senators to join her — and the Wisconsin Counties Association — in rejecting the bill. The resolution, in part, opposed state “micromanagement of land-use controls.”

“This ordinance,” Vinehout, an Alma Democrat, said, “was taken all the way to the United States Supreme Court and was determined to be legal.”

The Murr family owns two adjoining town of Troy lots along the river, one of which contains a cabin. The other lot was purchased decades earlier as an investment. The Murrs have since hoped to sell the lot to help pay for improvements to the cabin.

Preventing that are St. Croix County and state laws that effectively merged the two properties into one. It's because the properties are under common ownership that they are merged and unable to sell one without the other.

The family got the High Court to hear the case in March, though a ruling handed down in June cast the Murrs’ hopes into limbo.

The Murrs were represented at the U.S. Supreme Court by attorney John Groen of the Pacific Legal Foundation. He said the firm was “very pleased with the legislative progress made today.”

“Whether through the courts or the Legislature, securing individual rights in property is fundamental to liberty,” Groen said. “Today’s action advances liberty.”

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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