Gov. Tony Evers issued a new mask mandate Thursday afternoon immediately after the Assembly voted to eliminate it. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, urged the Wisconsin Supreme Court to weigh in.
Four of the Republicans that did not vote to repeal the order explained in a letter that it would be “impossible to ignore the overwhelming concerns” of over 50 groups that stand in opposition, including the healthcare industry, chambers of commerce, schools and churches.
“We, the undersigned, believe that Gov. Evers’ continued issuance of emergency order extensions, including his mask mandate, is likely illegal. However, it is the responsibility of the judicial branch – not the legislative branch – to make that determination,” the legislators representing Northeastern Wisconsin wrote.
Evers released a video message reiterating that he promised Wisconsinites at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that he “would never play politics” with their health.
“Every step of the way, our statewide strategies to contain this virus and prevent the spread have been met with lawsuits, political rhetoric and obstruction,” Evers said. “If the Legislature keeps playing politics and we don’t keep wearing masks, we're going to see more preventable deaths, and it’s going to take even longer to get our state and our economy back on track.”
Evers’ efforts to control the pandemic have been repeatedly challenged by Republicans in court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has yet to rule on a case asking whether Evers can issue multiple emergency declarations to address the same issue without the legislature’s approval. The court struck down Evers’ stay-at-home order last May.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, who authored the joint resolution, said he would immediately draft another joint resolution to end Evers’ new emergency declaration. He said he would call on Senate leadership to consider filing for emergency action in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“Despite the policy disagreements over emergency declarations and mask orders that exist between the governor and legislature, we are once again in a constitutional crisis in Wisconsin because Tony Evers willfully refuses to comply with state law,” Nass said.
However, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu indicated that the legislature would not take further action and urged the Wisconsin Supreme Court to “end this constitutional crisis.”
“As we told the Court in November, even if the Legislature revoked the Governor’s illegal renewal of his 60-day state of emergency, the question would remain just as relevant and urgent because we believed he would simply issue another extension. That has now come to pass,” LeMahieu said.
Democrats overwhelmingly criticized Republicans for voting to repeal the mask mandate. Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Republicans were “undermining Governor Evers and placating an extreme anti-science movement.” Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, said Republicans chose “political games and extreme ideology” over the health of constituents.
“The vote taken today by Assembly Republicans is either about repealing the mask requirements – which is cruel and callous in and of itself – or Republicans were willing to take an action so uncaring and unkind that they put their contempt for the governor and their desire for absolute power ahead of the health and economic stability of our communities and our state,” Subeck said.
Before Evers implemented the new mask mandate, some cities and counties immediately enacted their own mask ordinances, including Rock County. Dane County already had a local order in place mandating face coverings.
“Dane County continues to have mask orders in place and we encourage other local units of government to join us in trying to end this pandemic once and for all,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said. “Our state and nation have suffered because critical decisions needed to manage this pandemic have been politicized from minute one by those whose ideology orchestrated today’s vote.”
Before the Assembly voted on Thursday, Assembly Republicans asked Evers to use the administrative rulemaking process to enact masking requirements in certain environments that are “susceptible to transmission of the virus,” including health care facilities, nursing homes, public transit, universities and prisons.
However, Sen. Steve Nass, who co-chairs the joint rulemaking committee, said he would not support that effort, WPR reported.
The Assembly delayed voting to repeal the mask mandate last Thursday after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the move would cause the state to lose federal food assistance funding.
The Assembly passed an amendment to COVID-19 legislation today that would give Evers the power to issue emergency declarations solely to receive federal funding. The Senate will convene tomorrow to approve the amendment. The COVID-19 legislation has been bouncing between the two chambers for weeks and could ultimately be vetoed by Evers as it contains measures he opposes.
Hope Karnopp is the news manager and dabbles in music reviews at The Daily Cardinal. She previously hosted the Cardinal Call for WORT-FM and edited state news.