Wisconsin governor gives up on virus restrictions amid GOP opposition

Gov. Tony Evers said Monday that he’s given up trying to push through any more statewide mandates to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus because he thinks rival Republicans would never allow any restrictions after the state Supreme Court erased his stay-at-home order.

Minutes after his administration scrapped plans for a new emergency rule, Evers told reporters during a teleconference that drafting such rules would be a waste of time given the GOP opposition. His stance leaves local health officials on their own as they wrestle with whether and how to maintain social distancing mandates.

“The Republicans made it very clear they don’t believe a statewide approach is the right way to go at this point in time,” Evers said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense spending a lot of time doing something we know isn’t going to be successful.”

Evers issued a statewide stay-at-home order in March. State Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm in April extended the order to May 26 at Evers’ direction. Republican legislators balked at the economic fallout and filed a lawsuit with the conservative-leaning Supreme Court to block the order. The court on Wednesday found that Palm exceeded her authority when she extended the order unilaterally and that she should have worked with Republican legislators on an emergency rule.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers allows nearly all retail stores to open with limits

The ruling immediately allowed nonessential businesses to reopen. A handful of county health officials have since implemented their own stay-at-home orders, creating a patchwork of regulations that vary across the state.

The DHS released a scope statement for a new emergency rule the day after the court ruling. Scope statements are broad outlines of what rules are intended to accomplish and represent the first step in the drafting process.

The statement said the agency planned to “re-articulate” parts of Evers’ business re-opening plan and balance them against elements from the stay-at-home order. But Republicans pounced on the statement, saying Evers was trying to circumvent the court ruling and reinstate a stay-at-home order.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Thursday the two sides might not reach agreement and it will be up to the locals to implement their own restrictions. Republican state Sen. Steve Nass, co-chairman of the Legislature’s rules committee, demanded on Friday that Evers withdraw the scope statement. The DHS complied on Monday and scrapped the plan.

Vos aide Kit Beyer didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Alec Zimmerman, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, pointed to a statement Fitzgerald issued Friday saying that the scope statement was too focused on a phased re-opening and the state needs to move faster.

Nass said he has “great faith” that people will make the decisions necessary to fight COVID-19 on their own “without excessive government coercion.”

As of Monday, Wisconsin had recorded 12,687 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 459 deaths from the disease, according to DHS data.