Evers fires back against what he called a “massive political play”
Wisconsin is back in court.
And once again, Republican lawmakers are challenging the power and decisions of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and his administration.
Two weeks ago lawmakers successfully filed suit to stop Evers’ effort to suspend the April 7 election until June 9. The election was held, and on Tuesday the Milwaukee County Health official announced seven people have tested positive because of the election, six voters and one poll worker.
Tuesday afternoon, Republicans filed an original action in the Wisconsin Supreme Court to block the extension of the safer-at-home order from its original end date this Friday to a new end date of May 26.
Evers fired back against what he called a “massive political play” Tuesday afternoon. He said the move is all about power, not about stopping the virus or saving lives.
Legislative Republicans are telling the people of Wisconsin “our political power is more important than your health,” Evers said.
“If they get what they want, they will have cut out the executive branch,” Evers said. “If they get what they want, only the legislature will try to solve this problem. And you have heard what they have said. This lawsuit says nothing about the people of Wisconsin. It says nothing about the 4,000-plus people who have been infected or the 242 who have died. So clearly, it is not something they care about.”
Because the extension was declared by the state’s health secretary at Evers’ request, the lawsuit was filed against Andrea Palm, secretary-designee of the state Department of Public Health, and her second and third in command, Julie Willems Van Dijk and Nicole Safar.
“An unelected, unconfirmed cabinet secretary has laid claim to a suite of czar-like powers—unlimited in scope and indefinite in duration—over the people of Wisconsin,” reads the suit’s introduction. “Per her decree, everyone in the state must stay home and most businesses must remain shuttered.”
Palm is unconfirmed because Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, has sat on the nomination for more than a year. His caucus has already fired one secretary through the unusual act of denying a newly-elected chief executive his cabinet choices.
“Let me clear about one thing. If Republicans are successful, people will die,” said the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in a tweet.
Filed by the Wisconsin Legislature, the suit claims Palm and other top officials with DHS violated rules governing emergency rule-making processes and did not follow rule-making authority. This essentially cut the Legislature out of the overall decision-making process, argue the lawmakers.
Evers said naming Palm and other health department staff in the lawsuit is “ridiculous talk.”
“She has made difficult but important decisions,” Evers said. “I would put her up against any health secretary in the county.”
Lawmakers argue that had DHS followed proper channels, the Legislature, through its Joint Committee for Review of Administration Rules, would have “had a seat at the table.” That committee is co-chaired by Rep. Joan Ballweg, R- Markesan, and Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater.
By having a seat at the table, members of that committee would have had an opportunity to review Emergency Order 28 – the order that extended safer at home through May 26 – and to suspend it if it exceeded DHS’s statutory authority.
Lawmakers say if they had that opportunity, they would have produced a more “measured rule that balanced the need to protect public health with the need to preserve Wisconsin’s existing cultural and economic edifice,” according to the suit.
“The governor has denied the people a voice through this unprecedented administrative overreach,” said Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in a joint statement. “Unfortunately, that leaves the legislature no choice but to ask the Supreme Court to rein in this obvious abuse of power.”
Republican lawmakers cite the economic impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the state as a reason the extension of the order is too aggressive. Specifically, between March 15 and April 6, 313,000 new applications for unemployment insurance were filed and the unemployment rate in Wisconsin is nearly 17 percent.
Palm and Evers have repeatedly said the virus will determine the timeline for reopening the state. As the Republicans filed suit, the number of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths continues to rise in Wisconsin.
As of Tuesday, there have been 4,620 positive cases and 242 coronavirus-related deaths in Wisconsin, according to DHS.
Also, as lawmakers are claiming the state needs to reopen sooner than May 26, a surge of cases is occurring in Green Bay due to meat processing employees at three plants not receiving proper safety instructions in non-English languages and social distancing practices not enforced by management.
On Tuesday, 314 positive cases and two deaths were reported by health officials, with a testing site set up at the JBS Packerland plant. On Friday, there were 119 cases in all of Brown County.
The Supreme Court is giving Palm and other DHS officials until 4 p.m. April 28 to respond to the lawsuit. Republicans then have until April 30 to file a response. Non-parties have until April 29 to file their briefs.