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Dem Governor's Statewide Mask Mandate Goes Down in GOP Fight to Restore 'Rule of Law'

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UPDATE, Feb. 4, 2021: Following the publication of this article, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced on Twitter that he was “once again issuing a statewide public health emergency and order requiring face coverings.

“Wearing a mask is the most basic thing we can do to keep each other safe. Wearing a mask saves lives,” Evers said.

This article, and its headlines, remain as published:

Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature on Thursday repealed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate, making Wisconsin one of 10 states without a statewide order.

Republicans, who control both chambers, argued that Evers exceeded his authority by repeatedly extending the mask mandate without legislative approval.

The repeal will take effect on Friday, after both GOP legislative leaders sign it.

Evers could defy the Legislature by issuing a new order putting a fresh mask mandate in place, a move that would force the Legislature to vote again to repeal.

The latest mask mandate had been in place since August. Local mask ordinances, including ones in Milwaukee and Dane County, which includes Madison, remain in effect.

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Evers did not immediately comment on his next move.

Dr. Bud Chumbley, head of the Wisconsin Medical Society, said the vote “sends the wrong message at the wrong time.”

“Instead, we need all of our policy leaders to unify behind the same message: wear a mask to protect yourself and others, prevent additional deaths and restore our economy,” he said in a statement.

The Assembly voted 52-42 to repeal the mandate, with seven Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition.

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The Supreme Court could end the legislative back and forth with a ruling in a pending case that says Evers must secure lawmakers’ approval for health orders every 60 days.

Republicans say the issue isn’t about masks, but whether Evers can legally issue multiple emergency orders without legislative consent.

Evers contends the changing nature of the pandemic allowed him to issue multiple orders and mask mandates.

“I know you want to make it about masks. It’s not,” Republican Majority Leader Jim Steineke said. “It’s about the rule of law.”

The repeal is the latest defeat for Evers. The state Supreme Court last year scrapped his stay-at-home order and a state appeals court halted limits he had placed on indoor gatherings.

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Prior to Thursday’s vote, Assembly Republicans sent Evers a letter saying they would support a more limited mask mandate that applies to places “susceptible to transmission of the virus,” including health care facilities, nursing homes, mass transit, state government buildings, public schools, universities and prisons.

Republicans called on Evers to submit a rule proposal to enact such a mandate, saying such a request would be “reviewed fairly and judiciously.”

The Assembly also passed a bill that contains a provision designed to ensure the state doesn’t lose about $50 million a month in federal aid. Federal law requires there to be an emergency health order in place to receive the money.

The Senate planned to meet Friday to approve the bill, sending it to Evers. He has not said whether he will sign the bill.

The bill would also prohibit the closure of churches and bar employers from requiring workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19. It also gives the Legislature control over how federal money for fighting the virus is spent.

Evers had supported a previous, more limited, version of the bill.


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