MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Senate Republicans “stand ready” to strike down the statewide mask mandate that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers announced on Thursday, the GOP Senate leader said Friday.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald stopped short of promising that the Senate would vote to kill the order, which is slated to take effect on Saturday. Fitzgerald, a candidate for Congress who faces a GOP primary on Aug. 11, also did not indicate when the Senate might convene.
“Republicans in the state Senate stand ready to convene the body to end the governor’s order,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “The governor has caved to the pressure of liberal groups on this. How can we trust that the he won’t cave again and stop schools that choose in-person instruction this fall? There are bigger issues at play here, and my caucus members stand ready to fight back.”
State law gives the Legislature authority to revoke a governor’s emergency order. But the Assembly, controlled by Republicans, would also have to vote to strike down the order. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Thursday noted that he expects the order to face a legal challenge, but didn’t raise the possibility of the Legislature taking action. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The GOP-controlled Legislature has not met since mid-April, despite calls from Evers and Democrats to convene to take up issues related to the coronavirus pandemic, including ensuring that the Wisconsin National Guard can continue its work across the state assisting in testing for COVID-19.
A message left with Fitzgerald’s office for further comment was not immediately returned. Evers’ spokeswoman Britt Cudaback referred to comments he made on Thursday calling it “risky business” for the Legislature to revoke a mask mandate that polls show has broad public support.
Evers declared a public health emergency on Thursday and issued a separate order requiring masks to be worn, with some exceptions, by everyone age 5 and up while inside or in enclosed places. The order does not apply to people in their private homes. It was slated to run until Sept. 28, with violators facing a $200 fine.
As of Friday, more than a dozen county sheriffs across Wisconsin said they would not enforce the order, with many noting they didn’t have the resources to deal with it or that it was a public health issue instead of a law enforcement matter.
More than 30 states, with both Republican and Democratic governors, have mask mandates in effect. Public health officials around the world have emphasized that wearing a mask is one of the best ways to slow the spread of the highly contagious virus.
Wisconsin has had nearly 53,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 934 deaths from the disease since the pandemic started. That death count is the 28th-highest in the country and the 35th highest per capita, at nearly 16 deaths per 100,000 people. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has gone up by 70, an increase of nearly 9%.
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