In a video released by the governor's office, Gov. Tony Evers responds to the Legislature's effort to kill his most recent statewide face mask safeguard by issuing a new one.
In a video released by the governor's office, Gov. Tony Evers responds to the Legislature's effort to kill his most recent statewide face mask safeguard by issuing a new one.

Less than an hour after the Assembly voted to end the current safeguard, Evers issued a new one. Democrats offer a legislative mask safeguard, Republicans rule it’s not germane to a COVID bill.

Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate planned to officially end Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency orders and the face mask requirements by the end of the week, despite widespread opposition. But less than an hour after the Assembly’s vote on Thursday to end the current orders, Evers decided to just issue two new ones.

“Every step of the way, our statewide strategies to contain this virus and prevent the spread have been met with lawsuits, political rhetoric, and obstruction,” Evers said in a released video statement. “Unfortunately, that happened again today when Republicans in the Legislature came in to vote down our state’s public health emergency and end requiring face coverings in public places. And, in so doing, they also put at risk nearly $50 million a month in federal funds that will go toward helping hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable Wisconsinites have access to food assistance during this pandemic. Folks, that is wrong.”

Republicans claimed they’d found a workaround for the additional FoodShare benefits, one that would only allow the governor to declare a public health emergency in order to receive federal funds. Those funds were made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and are contingent on states having an emergency order in place. 

It was unclear when the legislative vote took place whether their workaround would actually work. 

Before the vote, Vos said he hoped the bill would receive bipartisan support. The bill actually received bipartisan opposition; seven Republicans crossed the aisle to vote against the bill, including Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz), Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), Loren Oldenburge (R-Viroqua), Jessica Rodriguez (R-Oak Creek), David Steffen (R-Green Bay), and Ron Tusler (R-Harrison).

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) scheduled a special session to get the resolution signed on Friday. 

An hour later, Evers announced he would institute a new emergency order and mask requirements

“Our fight against this virus isn’t over–it’s not going away, especially as we see mutations of this virus in our state and others,” Evers said. “Wearing a mask is the most basic thing we can do to keep each other safe. 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.”

Related: Wisconsin Supreme Court Still Could Strike Down Mask Orders. Read the Arguments Made in November Still Under Consideration.

The newest orders are effective immediately and run for another 60 days. 

‘Either way, you’re in the wrong”

Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) argued the resolution was not about masks but about Evers’ supposed overreach in issuing multiple emergency orders. To test that claim, Assembly Democrats offered an amendment to the COVID-19 bill that has been kicking back and forth between the Assembly and Senate for weeks, that would have mirrored Evers’ mask order. 

Assembly Republicans did not even vote on the amendment but instead struck it, arguing that an order on wearing masks in public was not germane to the COVID-19 bill.

Instead Vos, told the press ahead of the floor session that the governor should submit a bill on face coverings to the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules, co-chaired by Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater). But it was Nass who wrote the Senate’s resolution ending the emergency orders and has voiced opposition to statewide mask requirements from the very beginning. 

“This is shameful,” Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) said. “Either it’s about masks or it’s about politics and either way you’re in the wrong.”

As of Thursday, 59 organizations had registered in opposition to the Senate’s joint resolution that would dissolve the governor’s previous emergency orders, terminate the current order and the statewide masking order and another 13 also registered in opposition to the Assembly’s version of the resolution.

“Instead of trying to demonstrate power or challenge the governor, play political games, let’s help our state move forward,” Majority leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said. “Is what we are doing today helping our state move forward? And if we’re not going to do anything to help move our state forward, how about we don’t do anything that makes things worse.”