- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) - Religious waiver forms that will be distributed this week to all 72 counties in Wisconsin are expected to resolve a dispute over building codes between Eau Claire County and its Amish community.

An amendment to the 2015-17 state budget allows for exemptions to the electrical and plumbing requirements in the state’s uniform dwelling code to residents who cannot follow them for religious reasons. Amish residents will now be able to claim an exemption from installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in their homes because they violate their religious beliefs.

Some Old Order Amish families say religious tenets requiring them to live simply and avoid modern conveniences prohibit them from using those devices, the Leader-Telegram (http://bit.ly/1VhB3eZ ) reported.

Republican state Rep. Kathy Bernier of Lake Hallie introduced the amendment after Eau Claire County pursued actions against several Amish families for noncompliance with the code. She said many Amish families weren’t willing to sign the code promising they would install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors because they believed it was dishonest since they didn’t plan to follow through due to religious reasons.

Rick Eaton, assistant corporation counsel for Eau Claire County, said on Thursday afternoon that he believes the county already had received one of the waiver forms and he expects an influx soon.

“We’ll follow the process as it’s been outlined in both the legislation and this new form,” he said.

The clash between Eau Claire County and its Amish community came to the forefront because of stricter enforcement of building codes than in other counties regarding the Amish, Bernier said.

“I am so happy that we got the amendment through and we’re over this hump,” she said.

Bernier believes the law now clarifies how religious freedom cases should be handled in the state.

“I think this is going to set a standard, not just for Eau Claire County but for the entire state and the nation,” she said. “It will be a good model as to how to have a good structure and yet recognize the rights of a group of people who have religious beliefs they have held for hundreds of years.”

About 17,000 Amish people live in Wisconsin, according to the Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies.

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Information from: Leader-Telegram, http://www.leadertelegram.com/

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