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Gov. Tony Evers: GOP Leaders ‘Unconcerned’ About Patchwork Of COVID-19 Response

New Statewide Restrictions Would Require Approval From GOP Lawmakers

Tony Evers
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks during an interview during the National Governors Association 2019 winter meeting in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

Another statewide order responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in Wisconsin may be a long ways away, if it happens at all, according to Gov. Tony Evers.

Under Wednesday’s ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Evers administration no longer has the power to issue statewide restrictions on people and businesses as the virus spreads in the state.

Instead, the administration has to get approval from the Legislature’s rulemaking committee, which is run by Republicans, on any new restrictions. That effectively gives GOP lawmakers veto power over any future stay-at-home orders in the state.

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Evers met with Republican legislative leaders Thursday morning to discuss the rulemaking process and what a new statewide order may look like.

But during an afternoon call with reporters, the governor said the leaders seemed uninterested in a new statewide plan, as counties across Wisconsin have adopted a patchwork of stay-at-home orders in the wake of Wednesday’s court ruling.

“They’re unconcerned about what I believe will be massive confusion that will exist without a statewide approach,” Evers said. “Apparently, they believe that different rules are OK … essentially mile-by-mile there may be different rules.”

Republicans have for weeks pushed for a regional approach to restrictions in Wisconsin, arguing areas that have had fewer cases of COVID-19 should have different government-imposed limits than places with bigger outbreaks.

In a statement released after the meeting, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the meeting “went well.”

Vos’ spokesperson added, “The speaker feels it’s important that we continue to have confidence and trust in the public and business owners.”

In a tweet, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he is “glad that we can finally engage in a back-and-forth discussion regarding the rules process, and look forward to continuing the dialogue.”

Both leaders declined to provide more details about specifics discussed during the meeting.

Evers told reporters the meeting didn’t include any decisions about what his administration and Republicans could agree on as a baseline for state action. The governor said he expects they will meet again later this week.

But even under the speediest scenario in which Evers and GOP leaders find agreement, something that has often eluded them, a new statewide rule wouldn’t emerge for weeks. The rulemaking process in Wisconsin is a lengthy one.

During arguments before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Legislature’s attorney said the development of a new statewide order by rule would take at least 12 days.

Evers, who said Thursday the minimum timeline for creating a rule would be 14 days, told reporters his administration has already taken the first steps in the process. He said he has already approved a state Department of Health Services “scope statement” for a possible rule.

The governor noted, however, “the Supreme Court made it clear this is not our gig.”

Now that its power to limit contact between residents has been curtailed, Evers said his administration will focus on contact tracing, testing, and ensuring health care workers have adequate protective equipment on the job.