Residents push back against proposed Amish-buggy rules
Wood County residents spoke at a Board of Supervisors meeting in opposition to a proposal to regulate safety features, insurance and license requirements on horse-drawn buggies in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., December 19, 2017.
WISCONSIN RAPIDS - Residents pressured Wood County authorities to kill a proposal that would force the Amish and other horse-carriage operators to install numerous safety features and get driver's licenses and insurance.
The proposed ordinance then failed to get enough County Board support for a vote.
One resident attending the County Board meeting in Wisconsin Rapids had threatened to contact the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the board if it enacted the ordinance.
Although no one who was identified as Amish spoke at the meeting, all of the residents who addressed the board opposed the measure, with some calling it "far-fetched," "invasive" and "stupid."
The ordinance was drafted in part by County Board member Bill Winch of Vesper, who said it was proposed to save lives. It would have required animal-drawn vehicles to have windshields, seat belts, child car seats, rear-view mirrors, headlights and tail lights, and manure bags attached to horses. It would also have required those who operate the carriages to have a a driver's license and vehicle insurance.
Drivers would have to be at least 16 years old and must have passed a written test showing basic knowledge involving public roads, Winch said in defending the proposal.
Winch made a motion to vote on the ordinance last week but none of the other 18 members of the Wood County Board seconded his motion, and the issue died.
For the Amish community and other religious groups, the requirements would have been "completely impractical" because of their values and beliefs, according to Mark Louden, professor of German who specializes in Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch language and culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Amish populations follow most laws, but their religious convictions can sometimes make legal compliance a challenge.
Louden, who discussed the proposed ordinance last week in an interview with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, said that if enacted the measures would likely prompt the Amish to move from Wood County — and he said the new rules seemed designed to push them out.
Residents who spoke against the rules echoed those concerns, calling the measure a product of prejudice and bigotry.
Many community members said the issue is not the horse-drawn carriages, but the negligent drivers who don't know how to properly navigate around buggies on the road.
Gus Mancuso of the Wisconsin Rapids-based Incourage foundation spoke to the packed boardroom to advocate for more discussion about the traffic issues.
"I would challenge everybody here on both sides of this argument to participate," said Mancuso. "We have to understand that the collective wisdom of everybody can help make the best decision."
After the motion failed, County Board Supervisor Brad Kremer of Pittsville said the ordinance was really about getting proper lights on buggies. He said the rest of the regulations could be eliminated.
Winch said he was responding to concerns from constituents about a rash of crashes involving horse-drawn vehicles in and around Wood County, causing nine deaths in less than nine years.
"I didn't mean to cause all of this controversy," he said. "I do not dislike the Amish."