By Shereen Siewert
Almost immediately after Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature repealed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate, the governor issued a new health emergency that requires masks in public spaces.
The move will force the Legislature to vote again to repeal if they choose to do so.
The latest mask mandate had been in place since August. Local mask requirements, including those in Wausau, Milwaukee and Dane County, remained in effect even after the Legislature’s vote.
Republicans, rejecting guidance from virtually every health agency and organization in the country, argued that Evers exceeded his authority by repeatedly extending the mask mandate without legislative approval.
Republicans say the issue isn’t about masks, but whether Evers can legally issue multiple emergency health orders during the pandemic. The Legislature argues he can’t, and must secure their approval every 60 days. Evers points to the changing nature of the pandemic, insisting that called for multiple orders and mask mandates.
In a statement released after the Legislative vote, Rep. Pat Snyder, R-Schofield, said Evers is working outside his scope of powers.
“It is my hope that the Governor works with the Legislature moving forward on areas of compromise to protect public health during the pandemic including limited mask requirements in vulnerable settings and improving his vaccine rollout plan,” Snyder said. “I will continue to wear my mask in public so long as it helps mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and Wisconsinites are vaccinated.”
The Supreme Court could end the legislative back and forth with a ruling in a pending case that says Evers must secure lawmakers’ approval every 60 days. The court could also say he doesn’t need approval, thus forcing the Legislature to repeal every order Evers issues with which Republicans disagree.
Republicans also sued Gov. Evers last spring, which ultimately led to a decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order in May, leaving the state without mitigation tools to protect health and safety used widely by other states. In total, Republicans in the Legislature this year alone have spent millions in taxpayer dollars in litigation objecting to Evers’ response to the pandemic. And fespite writing in a brief to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in April 2020 that stated Republicans were “drafting even now” legislation to respond to the pandemic, Republicans have not sent a bill to the governor’s desk in more than 290 days.
Coronavirus infections have declined in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S., but health experts have warned of a continuing danger, including the emergence of new and more contagious variants. All of Wisconsin’s neighboring states have some form of mask mandate, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy, and all but nine states nationwide have some type of mask mandate in place.