MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Governor Tony Evers issued a statewide order requiring face coverings citing the recent surge in COVID-19 cases as an emergency requiring the mask mandate, one that is likely to face legal challenges from conservatives.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Evers said in a media briefing Thursday. “We need to do it for each other and if we don’t we’ll pay a huge price.”
The order requires face coverings for people ages 5 and up when they are indoors or in an enclosed area that is not their household and not complying with the order could result in a $200 fine.
It goes into effect on Saturday, August 1, the same day as when Jill Karofsky is sworn in as the newest justice of the state Supreme Court.
In May, the administration’s Safer at Home order was struck down by the state Supreme Court, though that decision focused largely on the powers of Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. That decision came down to a 4-3 decision, with conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn surprising many by siding with the two liberal justices on the court at the time.
Conservatives will still hold a majority on the court when Karofsky joins, but if a legal challenge to the mask mandate reaches the court, it’s likely it will come down to Hagedorn as the deciding vote.
Regardless, the Evers administration notes that the state is continuing to head in the wrong direction in its fight against the coronavirus.
“Our data on the activity level of COVID-19 in counties and regions across the state shows us that Wisconsin is in a much more serious situation today than we were a month ago,” Sec.-designee Palm said.
Despite the health and economic crisis caused by the virus, conservatives say the governor is overstepping his authority.
“Wisconsin shouldn’t have a one-size-fits-all mandate,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R – Rochester) said in a statement. “It’s disappointing that yet again Governor Evers has chosen to not communicate or work with the legislature. There are certainly constitutional questions here; I would expect legal challenges from citizen groups.”
One of those groups likely to issue the legal challenge is Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a conservative law firm. WILL’s President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said that Evers “lacks the legal authority to declare a second public health emergency and require every citizen to wear a mask." He added that attorneys for the group are “reviewing” the order for a potential legal challenge.
Another strategy for Republicans is to call the Legislature into session to attempt to block the order.
“I’m […] gauging the interest of my caucus when it comes to voting down the order – the Legislature should be reconvening to look at this,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) said in a statement released Thursday evening. The action of reconvening the Legislature is supported by at least one other GOP legislator, Sen. Steve Nass (R – Whitewater).
The Legislature has not met in session since April, when it passed a coronavirus relief bill. Since then, a host of issues pertaining to the pandemic’s effects on things like unemployment insurance, eviction moratoriums and others have led to lawmakers to urge leaders to call the legislative bodies into session, yet none of those matters have sparked action on the part of Vos and Fitzgerald, who control the Legislature.
Evers said he recognized that a legal challenge is likely, but believes the order has strong legal standing. On top of that, he believes the Republican strategy of a regional and local approach to the pandemic has failed.
“They’ve said we don’t need a statewide approach to respond to this crisis,” Evers said, referring to Republicans. “Well we tried their way and folks it’s not working.”
For now, the order expires on September 28.
Posted: 12:49 p.m. on July 30, 2020
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Governor Tony Evers declared a public health emergency and issued an emergency order requiring individuals to wear a face covering when indoors and not in private residences effective 12:01 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 1 and will expire on Sept. 28.
The announcement was made Thursday, July 30.
In a news release released Thursday, Evers said:
“While our local health departments have been doing a heck of a job responding to this pandemic in our communities, the fact of the matter is, this virus doesn't care about any town, city, or county boundary, and we need a statewide approach to get Wisconsin back on track. We’ve said all along that we’re going to let science and public health experts be our guide in responding to this pandemic, and we know that masks and face coverings will save lives. While I know emotions are high when it comes to wearing face coverings in public, my job as governor is to put people first and to do what's best for the people of our state, so that's what I am going to do.”
Emergency Order #1 requiring face coverings statewide can be found in full, below: