In a sharply partisan session of the Wisconsin State Senate on Tuesday, Republican lawmakers moved to strike Governor Evers’ mask mandate. Democratic state Senators, meanwhile, defended the measure that most easily protects Wisconsinites from catching a virus responsible for the death of more than 6,000 people in the state.
The resolution would end the statewide public health emergency that has been in effect since March of last year, and would effectively strike all related emergency orders issued by Governor Evers -including the statewide mask mandate.
Republican lawmakers argued to repeal, saying Wisconsinites could opt to wear masks on their own. Senator Stephen Nass, a Republican from Whitewater, emphasized the number of times Governor Evers has extended the state of emergency.
“This is not about masks… it’s about exceeding the powers granted to the governor by the people through the constitution and our statutes. Emergency declarations can be issued for 60 days, not five times one after another after another,” said Senator Nass.
Democrats spoke against the resolution, emphasizing the continuing crisis, and the lack of a legislative response. Senator Chris Larson, a Democrat from Milwaukee, says the mask mandate simply saves lives.
“The easiest thing to do is let this move forward, or if you have a problem with the governor, to pass our own resolution, to acknowledge reality and acknowledge the emergency around us. To do anything beyond that is completely tone deaf, and will extend the pandemic and make things worse,” said Senator Larson.
Nearly two dozen healthcare organizations including the Wisconsin Hospital Association and the Wisconsin Medical Society, oppose repealing the mask mandate, while no organizations support its repeal.
The resolution marks a change in strategy for state Republicans, who had previously tried to eliminate Governor Evers’ emergency powers by appealing to the courts.
The Senate voted 18-13 to end the mask requirement shortly before broadcast. It heads next to the G-O-P controlled Assembly, which is expected to take up the resolution on Thursday. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told reporters today he expects the Assembly would go along with the plan to repeal the mandate, Governor Evers would not be able to veto the repeal.
If the resolution passes the assembly, It would be the first pandemic policy change made by the state legislature since last April. Local orders, like the Dane County mask mandate, would remain in effect.
Also today, the Wisconsin Assembly passed an expanded COVID-19 bill barring employers from requiring vaccinations, which now heads back to the state Senate.