Evers issues new emergency, mask orders after GOP-controlled State Legislature’s repeal
Felzkowski, Callahan voted in favor of ending orders
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
MADISON – About an hour after the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature passed a joint resolution striking down the state’s emergency order and statewide mask mandate on Thursday, Feb. 4, Governor Tony Evers issued a new public health emergency and statewide mask order.
“Wearing a mask is the most basic thing we can do to keep each other safe,” Evers said in a video statement. “If the Legislature keeps playing politics and we don’t keep wearing masks, we’re going to see more preventable deaths, and it’s going to take even longer to get our state and our economy back on track.”
The Legislature’s action, its first measure passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 10 months, would have made Wisconsin one of only ten states without a face covering order in place and one of two without an emergency order in effect. Nearly $50 million in monthly emergency food assistance from the federal government would have potentially been in jeopardy if the governor hadn’t issued a new emergency health order.
The joint resolution’s path to passage began in the State Senate, where State Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) joined 17 other Republican State Sens. in voting for the resolution on Tuesday, Jan. 26. Democrats in the State Senate, along with Sens. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), voted against the resolution, which ultimately passed with an 18 to 13 vote.
The State Assembly followed suit on Thursday, Feb. 4, voting 52 to 42 to approve the joint resolution. Rep. Calvin Callahan (R-Tomahawk) joined most Republicans in voting in favor. All Democrats and seven Republicans – Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), Rep. Jeffrey Mursau (R-Crivitz), Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), Rep. Loren Oldenburg (R-Viroqua), Rep. David Steffen (R-Green Bay), Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison), and Rep. Jessie Rodriguez (R-Oak Creek) – voted against.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020, Evers has declared five emergency orders, each lasting 60 days with the ability to be extended. The State Legislature did not extend any declared emergency order, leading to Evers’ declarations of new orders following the expirations of preceding orders.
After putting the mask mandate in place last summer, Evers has extended it three times, most recently on Jan. 19, 2021.
Republican lawmakers have argued that Evers’ issuances of new emergency orders were unlawful because they’re tied to the same pandemic, saying the governor should have gone to the State Legislature for approval of extensions every 60 days instead. Numerous GOP legislators, including Felzkowski and Callahan, echoed this sentiment following the Legislature’s votes.
Felzkowski, in a statement released after the vote in the State Senate, said the resolution would “bring the power back to the people by reminding the Governor that he needs to work with the Legislature moving forward and have faith in the democratic process instead of ruling by himself like an emperor and bypassing the people’s house.”
“Our state has deep roots in civic engagement and a robust democratic process,” Felzkowski stated. “Our laws intend for the Governor to work with the Legislative Branch to extend emergency orders because we are the ones that enable that democratic process to take place. Any mandate the Governor wishes to extend is owed the process of a public hearing, a chance for experts to testify, time for coalitions to amend and give feedback, and a vote by the 132 legislators that are chosen by the people of Wisconsin to be their voices. This is the law.”
Callahan issued a statement after the Assembly vote, saying Evers’ “executive overreach needs to end now.”
“Today’s vote was not about masks; it was about ending a continued disregard for the rule of law,” Callahan stated. “The governor’s unilateral, one-size-fits-all approach is not the way to address the COVID-19 crisis. That plan that may work for Madison or Milwaukee, but it may not work for the Northwoods, and it’s about time my constituents have a say in the matter.”
In the weeks leading up to the joint resolution’s passage, organizations ranging from healthcare associations to school districts came out against repealing the state’s mask mandate. The Medical College of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, and the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin were among nearly 50 groups that registered as lobbying against the resolution. No groups registered as lobbying in favor of the resolution.
Under state law, Evers cannot veto a joint resolution – only legislation. The State Legislature, with majority votes in both chambers, can strike down emergency orders put in place by the governor. Because the Legislature has the power to vote to overturn the new orders, the stage is set for the potential continuation of the ongoing battle between Evers and the GOP-controlled State Legislature regarding the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.