Posted at 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, February 4, 2021
The Brillion News
MADISON - The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) is representing A Leap Above Dance Studio, in Oregon, Wisconsin, in an enforcement action brought against it by the Madison-Dane County public health department. The department is seeking nearly $24,000 in fines for what it characterized as a “performance” of the Nutcracker on December 13, 2020. In addition to fighting the fines, A Leap Above Dance Studio joined WILL's lawsuit challenging a Dane County ordinance that makes the health department’s orders enforceable as la.
That suit was filed on January 20.
WILL Deputy Counsel Luke Berg called the citation and fine outrageous.
“This outrageous enforcement action illustrates why a single, un-elected official cannot have this much unchecked power," Berg said. "No one should be allowed to write, reinterpret, and enforce their own county code.”
The Madison-Dane County Health Department issued an order last November with a ban on some in-person gatherings, but the order allowed “child care and youth settings” such as “unregulated youth programs” to continue to host groups of 15 or fewer students.
The state Department of Children and Families puts group dance lessons in that category.
A Leap Above annually hosts a performance of the Nutcracker during the holidays.
WILL said it is the highlight of the year for many dancers, and they begin preparing during the summer.
Due to COVID-19, A Leap Above owner Natalie Nemeckay realized that a performance would not be possible, so she came up with a safe, innovative way to allow her dancers to do the dances they had been practicing while complying with the order.
They came to the dance studio in groups of up to 10, wearing masks, to record their dances on video. The groups rotated through separate rooms to change and do their dances in a consistent direction and were scheduled over a six-hour period to minimize interactions. There was no audience and even parents were required to wait in their cars.
Then, on January 25, the Dane County Health Department filed a complaint against A Leap Above for this, seeking nearly $24,000 in fines.
The Health Department’s complaint suggests that A Leap Above was warned prior to the event that it would violate the order in place at the time, but WILL said this is not true.
The event occurred on a Sunday. The Health Department mailed a letter on the Friday before, but it did not arrive until Monday, after the event.
The Health Department also left a voicemail on Friday, while the business was closed, and the studio did not receive it until Monday.
When asked what her initial reaction was to the health department fine, Nemeckay toild WILL: "Shock and disbelief I suppose. And I felt attacked. I felt like they never tried to talk to me. They never came to my business. For eleven months now, I've been extremely cautious and have followed all of these mandates to keep my kids safe."
She said other private businesses are struggling under the health agency's orders.
"I'm a strong business,” said Nemeckay. “The only reason I could survive COVID is because I've saved a lot of money. Because a lot of our revenue came from performances and we can't do those anymore. And I don't know when we will be allowed to do those again. If the health department gets away with fining all of these businesses, a lot of them are going to close."
Nemeckay and A Leap Above will be represented by WILL in fighting the fines. In addition, A Leap Above joined the January 20 lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court which challenges the authority of the Dane County health department to issue sweeping restrictions without oversight or permission from local elected officials.