Wisconsin judge upholds mask order for enclosed spaces
MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) - A Wisconsin judge on Monday upheld the state's masked mandate and denied an attempt by the Republican-controlled legislature and a conservative law firm to overthrow it, even if cases worsen.
The judge found in his ruling that lawmakers could vote to overturn the order of the Democratic government of Tony Evers if they wanted, but they have not yet done so.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which brought the case, will appeal, said group president Rick Esenberg. He didn't say if they would try to skip the state appeals court by asking the conservatively controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case. Esenberg called the issue a "critical constitutional matter".
Republican lawmakers did not immediately return comments. The legislature filed a brief in support of the lawsuit.
The lawsuit argued that Evers had exceeded his authority by issuing several emergency orders to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Defending the Mask Ordinance, Evers said it was in his power to enforce the requirement and he followed recommendations from public health experts.
Evers called the verdict a victory in the fight against COVID-19.
"We will continue to do everything we can to prevent this virus from spreading," said Evers. "We ask the Wisconsinites to stay home as much as possible, limit travel and public gatherings, and always wear a mask when they are out." ”
St. Croix County Circuit Judge R. Michael Waterman said in his ruling that nothing prevents a governor from making multiple emergency statements "if the emergency conditions persist".
"And if the legislature is not convinced that there is a state of emergency, the legislature has ultimate power to end it," said the judge.
The judge also ruled that the lifting of the mask mandate introduced in August would "affect anyone in Wisconsin by a judicial act exercising the governor's power to declare a state of emergency and the legislature's power to end one" .
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, praised the ruling and encouraged Republicans to “stop supporting this attack on the mask requirement and instead work with Governor Evers to pass statewide guidelines that will allow us to more effectively target the virus to fight and keep Wisconsinites. " for sure."
Evers first declared a public health emergency in March and renewed it in July after lawmakers rejected the extension. The July ordinance stipulated the wearing of masks from August for everyone over the age of 5 in all closed rooms except at home. In September he issued another order extending the mask mandate until November 21. Violations could result in a fine of $ 200.
The lawsuit argues that Evers can only issue one emergency statement per crisis. Attorney Anthony LoCoco said during a hearing last week that the multiple statements represent a power takeover and that the mask mandate represents an "invasion" of personal freedom.
The lawsuit also argued that masks are ineffective as infection rates in Wisconsin have continued to rise since the Evers mandate was imposed.
Deputy Attorney General Colin Hector argued for the state that the three orders were designed to address the growing pandemic.
Wisconsin is among the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the country, reaching more than 150,000 positive cases on Sunday. Medical experts have attributed Wisconsin's surge to colleges and K-12 schools reopening and general fatigue with precautions like wearing masks and social distancing.
Due to the rising tide, some hospitals are near full capacity, especially in the northeast and central Wisconsin. The governor's office has announced the activation of a field hospital on the state fairgrounds to accommodate the increase in patients.
Republican lawmakers managed to get the conservatively-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to crush the virus-linked Evers order at home in May. The Supreme Court ruled that the Evers government had exceeded its authority by extending the order without consulting lawmakers.
Republican lawmakers in other states have repeatedly argued with Democratic governors over their powers during the pandemic. In neighboring Michigan, the Conservative Majority Supreme Court ruled that the law underlying Governor Gretchen Whitmer's response to the pandemic was unconstitutional.
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