Empower Wisconsin | Aug.1, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers didn’t seem to think much about who was going to enforce his new mask mandate when he and his team of geniuses were putting together their new edict.
As the executive order takes effect today, law enforcement officers around the state are telling the governor they don’t have the resources or the time to play COVID cop.
Grant County Sheriff Nate Dreckman wrote on Facebook that he in no way means to “negate the validity of the use of masks to curb the spread of COVID-19,” but his deputies will not take any enforcement action on the governor’s order.
The sheriff’s thoughts are shared by police officers across the state, put into a position to enforce health laws ordered by the same politicians that have spent the past two months running law enforcement down.
“At any given time, I have a limited number of deputies on to cover the entirety of the county, and as it is, they continuously run from call to call. We need them to be working on the prevention and investigation of criminal activity to help provide a safe and secure environment for our citizens,” Dreckman wrote.
“Secondly, with the current lack of support for law enforcement in this country (not necessarily locally), the last thing I would want to do is subject our citizens and our law enforcement into having contact over a controversial issue. When we enforce laws our legislators have enacted, a vast majority of the public (95% plus), support us enforcing those laws. In regards to this issue, I don’t see an overwhelming majority (95% plus) of citizens supporting this order,” he added.
He said sheriffs across the state are seeking clarification from the Attorney General’s Office as to who has enforcement action on this order, as it is a public health order.
Green County District Attorney Craig R. Nolen says Evers’ edict is an “unlawful extension” of the governor’s statewide lockdown in March. The Wisconsin Supreme Court in May struck down the administration’s extended stay-at-home order. Nolen said his office would not enforce Evers’ latest orders.
“Therefore, my office will not be prosecuting any offences for individuals not complying with the ‘Mask Mandate,’ the district attorney said in a statement.
“It is at times like these, that I call upon our legislature and local municipalities to make decisions based upon what fits the needs of each community best and that all residents of Green County and the State of Wisconsin consider the severity of the impacts of COVID-19 on people’s individual health,” he said.
Violating the order comes with up to a $200 fine.
Brian Wright, Barron County district attorney, said his office will not prosecute any referrals for violations.
“The Governor’s authority to issue such an order and to expose the citizens of Wisconsin to forfeiture liability for violation is unresolved,” he said in a statement. “I will not deprive citizens of property via a forfeiture prosecution if there is not clear authority for such a prosecution. At this time, I am not satisfied that such a clear authority exists.”
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald on Friday said Senate Republicans “stand ready” to convene to end Evers’ order. He said the Democrat has “caved to the pressure of liberal groups.”
“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,” the Juneau Republican said in a press release.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) agreed there are “constitutional questions here,” but has not said whether the Assembly would convene to deal with Evers’ mask mandate. The Republican-controlled Legislature has been loathe to return to session during what traditionally has been full-on campaign season.
Liberal Attorney General Josh Kaul, whose office unsuccessfully defended the governor in the case before the Supreme Court, said in a statement that masks have reduced COVID-19 cases, saved lives and led to faster economic recovery. He did not say whether he thought his fellow Democrat’s order was legal.
Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow said the governor’s emergency order goes too far. He said the mandate will “create more issues that will not only make it more difficult to respond to the pandemic, the unenforceability of the order undermines existing laws, and overreach from the state erodes public trust in the government.”
“Today, our 911 dispatch center, Sheriff’s Department and other Waukesha County departments and divisions are already receiving calls from residents concerned about this order, and we expect that to intensify when it goes into effect on Saturday and individuals begin to report others to law enforcement,” Farrow said.