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Committee checks Evers’ latest edict

Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 13, 2020

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — The Legislature’s Rules committee voted along party lines Monday to check Gov. Tony Evers and his health chief.

Whether the administration will actually follow the law — something it has repeatedly failed to do during the run of the pandemic — remains to be seen.

Following heated debate, the Republican-controlled Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) voted 6-4 to direct the Department of Health Services to promulgate an emergency rule from DHS Secretary-designee Andrea’s Palm’s order last week limiting public gatherings to 25 percent capacity.

Palm and her team have 30 days to turn the latest COVID-19 restrictions into a rule, hold a public hearing and seek the approval of the Rules committee. The latter is unlikely given Republicans’ objections to the unilateral actions taken by the Evers administration.

“I have my doubts that this rogue agency will comply with my request,” said Steve Nass, co-chair of the JCRAR. “They have, up until this point, been pretty lawless.”

The idea, Nass said in a follow-up press release, is to further erode “the ability of DHS to enforce the limits on gatherings under the whims of Evers and Palm.”

“They need to comply with Wisconsin’s Administrative Rules Law and act lawfully,” Nass said in the statement.

Evers and his defenders insist the order limiting public gatherings is critical in slowing a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitlizations. Asked last week about the damage restricting businesses to 25 percent of customers would have on restaurants, retailers and hotels already suffering from seven months of pain, Evers shrugged and said, “They still have 25 percent …”

“It’s not forever,” the governor said.

Try telling that to operators on the brink of closing, small business advocates say.

The Rules committee took action on the same day a St. Croix County judge declined to issue a temporary restraining order on Evers’ expanded statewide mask mandate.

Judge Michael Waterman wrote, “Nothing in the statute prohibits the governor from declaring successive states of emergency,” a reading of statute that is at odds with the law, conservative attorneys representing plaintiffs in the case say.

The judge also said the Republican-led Legislature could at any time stop the order by calling the Legislature back into session and passing a joint resolution. Dems pounded on that point during the JCRAR meeting.

Democrats laid on the heavy hyperbole, asserting Republicans have done nothing to save Wisconsin from COVID-19, and that tying the hands of DHS would make murderers out of the Legislature’s majority.

“All I see on the Republican side is, ‘Let the people die,’” said state Rep. Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie). “You have blood on your hands. These people are going to die because of your inaction.”

State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), also a member of the Rules committee, obtusely charged that “the purpose of the (Rules) committee is to jump in and restrict something.” The fear-mongering liberal means the Republicans leading the committee aim to restrict the DHS, which, of course, is restricting the liberties of Wisconsin citizens.

Nass told his Dem colleagues that they are again missing the point in their usual big-government way.

“We’re not debating COVID, we’re debating whether the government should go beyond the will of the governed,” the senator said.

Following the committee’s action, Evers sent Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) a letter seeking a meeting. He says he wants to work collaboratively to come up with a plan to battle COVID-19. That’s precisely what Republican leadership asked of Evers last week. Faced with the eventual shutdown of his “unlawful” order, the governor is at least making a show of sitting down with Republicans. 

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