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Mask wars keep statehouse buzzing

Posted at 3:20 p.m. on Friday, February 5, 2021

By Benjamin Yount

Center Square News Service

MADISON - Most people at the Wisconsin Capitol agree there should be a mask requirement for at least some parts of the state. But there’s very little agreement about how to make that happen.

Republicans overrode Governor Tony Evers’ emergency order and mask requirement on Thursday. Almost immediately Democratic lawmakers said they want the legislature to enact a new mask requirement.

More than 50 Republicans in the Assembly and Senate signed a letter on Thursday, and offered to work with Governor Evers on a new mask requirement for parts of Wisconsin.

“In three different instances, we have asked to work together and you chose a go-it-alone approach that ultimately was unlawful and damaging to the citizens of the state of Wisconsin,” the letter states. “The citizens of Wisconsin are sick and tired of your go-it-alone approach. We therefore are writing to respectfully ask you to change course and work within the established system to legally enact rules that will keep those who are vulnerable safe and also protect the rights of our citizens to live their lives.”

Within the hour of seeing Republicans override his emergency order, which contained the mask mandate, Evers issued a new emergency order.

That left Republicans angry.

“Governor Evers prefers to dictate, rather than legislate,” Rep. Jeremy Theisfeldt said Friday. “Preserving the rule of law and the Constitution is not always popular, but it is always the right thing to do. The Legislature fulfilled its duty under the law by taking final action to end Governor Evers’ overreach and abuse of power through repeated illegal emergency health orders. Within an hour, the Governor’s response was to defy the law again by issuing another identical emergency health order.”

“A statewide mask order is a simple, effective tool that will help protect all Wisconsinites, and we know having a mask order will result in more people wearing masks,” Democratic floor leader Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said in a statement. “The Republicans who voted to overturn Wisconsin’s mask order have sworn up and down that it 'isn't about masks,' and there was bipartisan opposition in both houses to overturning it, so I look forward to strong bipartisan support for this bill.”

“It is our responsibility as state leaders to put an order in place through legislation, and help stop the spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, said. “If we allow the forces of ignorance and selfishness to prevail, we will not only be the laughing stock of the nation, but we will also be prolonging the pain of the pandemic and put more Wisconsinites at risk.”

Democrats have introduced a plan to have the legislature create a statewide mask mandate.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu says the only way this will get settled is when/if the Wisconsin Supreme Court rules on the governor's emergency powers.

“The People of Wisconsin can no longer be subjected to confusing, unilateral decrees without basis in statute. We must reinstate the rule of law, uphold separation of powers, and restore confidence in our system of government,” LeMahieu said. “The Legislature has done our part to stop this lawlessness. Only a court can stop a Governor bent on ignoring the law.”


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