Republicans Resolve To Shut Down Mask Order

By Zac Schultz

January 22, 2021

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Person wearing mask

Dane County resident wears mask.

Republicans in the state Senate have introduced a joint resolution that would overturn Gov. Tony Evers’ latest statewide mask order.

Nine Senators, including Senate President Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, have signed on to the resolution, and 18 Republicans in the Assembly are listed as co-sponsors.

The joint resolution, which needs to pass both houses, would end the governor’s current public health emergency declaration—which gives the governor the power to declare a mask mandate.

So far, neither Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostberg, or Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have commented on the resolution. Because it is a legislative joint resolution, the governor does not have the power to veto the proposal.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the measure next Tuesday.

In a statement, Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said, “While Gov. Evers works to keep Wisconsinites healthy and safe and distribute vaccines across our state, Republicans continue their efforts to hinder our state’s response. Republicans haven’t taken COVID-19 seriously from the beginning, and they still aren’t now more than 280 days since they last sent a bill to the governor’s desk.”

Under state law, Evers can declare a public health emergency, which gives him the power to pass the mask order. The emergency powers only last 60 days, unless the Legislature agrees to extend the powers.

Evers first issued a public health emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic last March. He issued another emergency declaration in August, when he implemented a mask mandate, and has issued new orders every 60-days when the old order expires.

The Republican-controlled Legislature can overturn the emergency order with a joint resolution, like the one they are proposing. Some Republicans have been urging their leadership to overturn Evers’ emergency powers since last summer, but it never came to a vote on the floor.

Republicans at the state and national level have been conflicted over their response to the COVID-19 pandemic since last March. Some declared the whole thing a hoax, while others acknowledged the truth but resisted mask orders, despite the evidence that wearing masks cuts down the transmission of the virus.

In Wisconsin’s Legislature, some Republicans in the Assembly have been attending committee hearings and floor sessions without masks.

The joint resolution to cancel the mask order would come just as newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden moves to expand the use of masks in order to bring the spread of the coronavirus under control.

Democrats also criticized Republicans for not passing a new coronavirus relief bill since the first bill last spring. The Assembly did pass a COVID-19 bill this year, but Democrats said it was loaded with poison-pill provisions designed to draw a veto from the governor.

The Senate passed a stripped down version of the bill that Evers said he would sign, but the Assembly has not acted on that bill. Assembly Republicans have scheduled a floor session next week to bring up the Senate bill, but it’s not clear if they will pass it or amend it.

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