The Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules held an Executive Session Tuesday and passed a motion that counters a current emergency order intended to limit the number of people allowed at public gatherings to combat rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin.
Emergency Order No. 3 limits some indoor public gatherings to no more than 25 percent of the total occupancy limit for a room or building. Exemptions from the order include schools, polling locations, political rallies and some businesses such as grocery stores.
The order came as Wisconsin reported 2,020 new cases of COVID-19, 18 more deaths and 853 hospitalizations last week.
Eight of the nation’s top-20 COVID-19 metro-area hotspots find themselves in Wisconsin, including Oshkosh-Neenah and Green Bay, which are ranked respectively first and third according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
“I know we are all tired, we are all frustrated and we just want to get back to our Wisconsin way of life — you and me both,” Gov. Tony Evers said. “But at the end of the day, whether we like it or not, we have to change the course of this virus and that’s going to take a united effort.”
Republicans filed a motion that would require the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to submit a new rule for consideration. This rule would take the place of the current emergency order within the next 30 days, and would add a layer of bureaucracy with no new plans to address the pandemic.
“Today’s meeting is little more than a bit of political theater on the part of Republicans as they try to stand in the way of the Governor’s work to keep people safe and address the pandemic,” said Rep. Lisa Suback, D-Madison. “We all want a sense of normalcy, kids safely back in school and our economy back on track, but it is crystal clear that our state’s recovery is dependent upon getting the spread of this disease under control.”
During the meeting, Democrats and Republicans quarreled over the enforceability of this motion.
“This is not a debate on COVID, this is debate on whether DHS is following the law,” said Sen. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater. “Secretary Andrea Palm is running a rogue agency. You have to follow the law.”
State Sen. Chris Larson D-Milwaukee disagreed.
“It seems asinine to have an academic discussion in an ivory tower about whether an emergency rule is subject to the rule-making oversight or whether they have the authority to be able to make the rule as it exists” Larson said. “Emergency rules are in an emergency.”
Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, echoed similar sentiments and addressed the Republican opposition directly.
“The governor followed science and medical advice. It’s not political for him,” Hebl said. “It has been 180 days since our legislature has met. You as members of the majority have failed in your duty to be responsible to the citizens of Wisconsin.”
After almost 50 minutes of debate, the Republican motion passed in a 6-4 vote.