(Photo via Getty Images)
(Photo via Getty Images)

‘Pathetic priorities,’ says a legislator about Tavern League’s suit over safeguards as Wisconsin has its deadliest week.

A Sawyer County Judge on Wednesday granted a temporary restraining order that reverses an indoor capacity limit on restaurants, shops, and other businesses, eight days after the limit was put in place and a day after the Tavern League of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit against it

Gov. Tony Evers on Oct. 7 ordered Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm to limit capacities to 25% of an establishment’s normal occupancy limit through Nov. 6. The order, meant to slow the spread of coronavirus, was put in place to slow a virus that has killed 109 Wisconsinites in the past seven days and overloaded hospitals with a daily number of new cases that continues to surpass previous days’ records.

But bar owners say the safeguard is keeping them from making money, and Judge John Yackel—a 2012 Scott Walker appointee to Lincoln County Circuit Court who lost his bid for re-election and then successfully ran for judge in Sawyer County—sided with the powerful Tavern League of Wisconsin as he moved to temporarily halt the capacity limit. 

“Just because some folks out there want to see full bars and full hospitals, doesn’t mean we have to listen,” Evers said in a video message to Wisconsinites posted online Wednesday afternoon.

Evers spokeswoman Britt Cuddaback said the administration will appeal Yackel’s decision.

“This is a dangerous decision that leaves our state without a statewide effort to contain this virus,” Cuddaback said in a statement sent to UpNorthNews after publication of this story. “We will be challenging the decision, and in the meantime, we need Wisconsinites to stay home and help us prevent the spread of COVID-19.” 

Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) pointed out how schools have had to cancel in-person classes over the continued COVID-19 spike, insinuating the decision will keep more kids out of classrooms.

“Make no mistake, if this dangerous decision stands, Wisconsin will be choosing full bars over full classrooms,” Johnson tweeted in response to Yackel’s ruling. “What a pathetic set of priorities to teach our children.”

Yackel set a hearing for 9 a.m. next Monday, Oct. 19, during which he will hear arguments for and against the order from Evers’ and the Tavern League’s legal teams.

Tuesday brought a record-high number of new confirmed coronavirus cases and virus-related deaths in Wisconsin as 3,279 more Wisconsinites tested positive and 34 died, according to Department of Health Services data. The state’s caseload has doubled since students returned to classrooms; cases increased from 76,584 on Sept. 1 to 155,471 as of Tuesday. Deaths have increased in that timeframe from 1,130 to 1,508.

Yackel’s ruling was the latest judicial defeat suffered by Evers as he has been left alone to fight the coronavirus pandemic by an absentee state Legislature that Republican leaders have not convened in more than 180 days. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) have taken Evers to court over health orders issued during the pandemic, despite doing literally nothing legislatively since April 15. They threw their weight behind an unsuccessful lawsuit to end Evers’ order requiring masks in indoor settings and successfully got the statewide Safer at Home order overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Vos and Fitzgerald do not appear to have direct involvement with the Tavern League’s action, though the organization has a long track record of donating to Republican political candidates, including a $5,000 contribution to Fitzgerald’s current Congressional campaign, according to spending tracking by OpenSecrets.org.

“How much longer can we go on like this?” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, a former Democratic state representative, tweeted. “[Evers] is making decisions and taking action to fight this pandemic and his opposition is doing nothing besides attempting to strike down everything done. The public health of Wisconsin should be the top priority of all sides. #DoYourJob.”

This has been updated after publication with comments from Gov. Tony Evers and his spokeswoman Britt Cuddaback.