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Two Weeks Later, Wisconsin’s Mask Mandate Remains In Place

While Republicans Have Criticized The Mandate, They Haven't Tried To Repeal It

A sign on a glass door says "mask required"
A sign hangs on the door of a business in downtown Madison on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. Angela Major/WPR

It’s been two weeks since Gov. Tony Evers issued his statewide mask mandate — and at least so far, there’s been no effort to repeal it.

Evers issued the order on July 30 using a state law that grants Wisconsin governors the power to declare public health emergencies. Wisconsin Republicans attacked the move almost immediately, calling it an abuse of power.

Under the law Evers used, a public health emergency lasts up to 60 days unless it’s repealed by a simple majority vote by the full state Legislature. It’s a different law than the one the Evers administration used to issue Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order earlier this year. That order, issued by Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm, was struck down by conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

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But it’s not the first time Evers has issue his own emergency declaration to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and Republicans contend the governor can’t issue repeated emergencies for the same situation.

Soon after Evers issued his order, state Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, called on GOP leaders to reconvene the Legislature to repeal it. The next day, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Republicans “stand ready to convene the body to end the Governor’s order, which includes the mask mandate.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said public health decisions should be left to local governments, and said he thought the governor’s mandate would face legal challenges “from citizen groups.”

Two weeks later, neither house of the Legislature has met to vote on the governor’s order, and spokespersons for Fitzgerald and Vos did not respond to emails Wednesday about whether the Legislature would meet.

Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, told WISN-TV this past weekend that Assembly Republicans currently don’t have the votes to repeal the mask mandates.

There’s also been no lawsuit filed against the order.

The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which has often taken Evers to court, believes the governor’s order is illegal, but said it had “no update” when asked Wednesday if it was planning litigation.

While there’s no shortage of topics for voters to consider in the 2020 election, repealing the mask mandate could have political implications as Republicans look to expand their majorities in the Legislature and Democrats try to stop them. A poll released this week by Marquette University found 69 percent of Wisconsin voters favor mandatory masks, including 71 percent of self-described independents.

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