Conservative Firm Files Suit to Overturn Mask Mandate, Restrict Governor’s Powers
Khayriyyah Khaaliq stands with her daughters Ashyra Khaaliq, 2, and 7th-grader Jakyra Johnson, at Henry Vilas Zoo in July shortly after the mandatory mask ordinance took effect in Dane County. A conservative Milwaukee-based firm filed a lawsuit Tuesday that would nullify the current statewide mask order. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Republicans “stand ready” to kill the statewide order, so local officials are staying on top of it.

It didn’t take long for Wisconsin Republicans to declare they “stand ready” to return from their 100-plus day vacation to kill Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate.

The measure meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 1,000 Wisconsinites and infected nearly 60,000, was barely in effect for 12 hours when Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald threatened to convene the Legislature and end the order.

This week saw at least two municipalities respond directly to those threats. Shorewood’s Village Board took the first step toward expanding its mask ordinance to require masks outdoors, and Wauwatosa council members passed a mask mandate that will last through Jan. 31.

“The fact of the matter is, the governor issued one, and we know what happened to his orders that were issued back in spring,” said Wauwatosa Alderwoman Kathy Causier.

Causier said school officials, business owners, and residents in Wauwatosa were requesting a local order be put in place. The Milwaukee suburb of about 50,000 currently has 511 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to Milwaukee County health data. It borders Milwaukee, which has nearly 15,500 confirmed cases.

“We felt that it was less confusing if we had the state order and it would for some reason in the future be pulled, that we would still have something in place locally,” Causier said.

Evers’ order expires Sept. 28 unless cut off early or extended by the Legislature, and there is next to no chance it would be in place past the end date. Evers cannot extend the order on his own, and it is incredibly unlikely the Republican-led Legislature would extend it.

The wildcard in Republican leadership so far is Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who initially criticized the statewide mask mandate but has remained silent on whether he would call the Assembly in to kill the order.

“I’ve been pretty pessimistic about this Legislature for a long time,” said Jim Paine, mayor of Superior, which has had an indoor mask requirement since July 21. “What’s strange to me is that they didn’t strike it down already, so I guess that’s kind of cause for hope.”

Superior’s order will expire Sept. 21, but Paine said he wants to see it extended, especially if the statewide order has ended by then. However, Paine said he is unsure if there is the political will within Superior to make it happen.

“I don’t see (the pandemic) abating by September,” Paine said. “I would support extending it. The original resolution passed pretty comfortably by the council, but there are still plenty of nays, too, so I think we would lose some votes extending it.”

The city of about 26,000 had 113 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, according to local data.

Shorewood, a northern Milwaukee suburb of about 13,000, has 121 confirmed cases, according to local health data. It was the first Milwaukee-area municipality to enact a mask mandate, passing it on July 8, a week before Milwaukee implemented its own.

When Shorewood village trustees first voted on their local mask order, which lasts until Jan. 20, they removed an outdoor mask-wearing requirement. Now, they are moving to expand the order to include outdoor spaces.

Trustees decided Tuesday they will vote on the expansion next month. Village Manager Rebecca Ewald said it was necessary to maintain and adapt the order because of the likelihood of Evers’ being struck down.

“It’s highly likely that that may be challenged in the future,” Ewald said during Tuesday’s meeting. “As we have seen, pretty much everything related to the emergency order or something coming out of the governor’s office will be challenged.”