Why Republicans Oppose Mask Mandate
They say it’s about the governor exceeding his authority. So why not pass their own plan?
Recent events suggest that the majority of Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have adopted a Trumpian strategy towards governing, particularly in respect to the pandemic. This strategy is characterized by a refusal to take a dangerous virus seriously and avoid the use of measures to control its spread. This conclusion is illustrated by the hostility towards masks, a radical letter that several lawmakers sent to then-Vice President Mike Pence, and Wisconsin Assembly Bill 1 dealing with COVID-19.
Since Governor Tony Evers issued his most recent order requiring masks in most indoor spaces, there has been a flurry of lawsuits aimed at overturning that order, as well as challenges to local orders. At the state level, the challenges have been merged into one, called Jere Fabick v. Tony Evers.
In their briefs, Jere Fabick’s lawyers argue that Evers’ practice of replacing an expiring 60-day order with a new order is illegal:
Section 323.10 does not permit the governor to issue executive orders declaring a state of emergency in excess of 60 days in response to the same public health emergency.
But section 323.10 is silent on that question. It simply says that:
A state of emergency shall not exceed 60 days, unless the state of emergency is extended by joint resolution of the legislature.
Critics of the governor often argue that the issue is not about whether masks are good, but whether Evers has exceeded his lawful authority. But opposition to the governor’s policies is driven mainly by hatred of masks and their association with Democrats. Otherwise, the supposed problem with the governor’s authority could be easily solved by working with the governor to come up with a mask policy agreeable to both parties.
This antagonism towards masks is reflected in Senate Joint Resolution 3 which would terminate the COVID-19 public health emergency, “including all emergency orders and actions resulting from the public health emergency.” Having passed the Senate largely on a party-line vote of 18-13, this resolution was well on its way to passage, when it was discovered that terminating the emergency order would also terminate federal supplemental food share payments to Wisconsin families.
A analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that in January 2021 these payments totaled $49 million for 242,507 households. That led to a pause in Joint Resolution’s progress while the Republican legislators tried to figure out how to create an emergency order with no teeth.
This brings us to Assembly Bill 1. As drafted, this bill has a number of provisions that would effectively serve to encourage the coronavirus’ spread:
- Offering immunity for most organizations if their actions result in exposure to COVID-19. This immunity applies even if there is noncompliance with federal, state, or local regulations.
- Prohibiting vaccinations as condition of employment.
- Requiring local health orders to be renewed every 14 days.
- Prohibiting local or state health officers from forbidding gatherings in places of worship.
- Prohibiting mandatory vaccinations.
AB 1 passed the Assembly and moved on to the Senate. Under threat of a veto by the governor, the Senate removed most of the provisions listed above and sent the bill back to the Assembly. The Assembly refused to accept the Senate’s changes and restored most of the questionable provisions in the original bill. It seems likely the bill, if passed, will be vetoed.
It was then discovered that the previously mentioned Joint Resolution 3, by eliminating the governor’s emergency order, would result in the loss of federal emergency food aid. The Assembly then amended AB 1 to allow the governor to issue an order declaring a public health emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic solely for the purpose of receiving federal coronavirus payments. It seems unlikely that such a limited emergency order would be accepted by the federal government.
The day before the mob attack on the Capitol, 94 Republican state legislators from five states signed a letter encouraging then-Vice President Pence to delay the count of the vote from five states. These states —Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—voted for Trump in 2016 but for Joe Biden in 2020. The letter claimed “a coordinated and structured multi-state effort to undermine state law protecting election integrity.”
Doing so, they argued, would allow “our respective bodies to meet, investigate, and as a body vote on certification or decertification of the election.” Essentially, they would have replaced the voters in the legal November election with a choice by the state legislatures. It should come as no surprise that in three of the states—including Wisconsin—Republicans control both houses of the Legislature. In the other two—Michigan and Pennsylvania—control is split between the parties.
Fifteen of those legislators were from Wisconsin. These fifteen are disproportionately represented among the Co-sponsors of AB 1. Using a chi-square test shows that the probability of this happening by chance is only 0.037 percent. The conclusion is clear: the same legislators who would have overridden the will of the voters in the Presidential election want to give free reign to the pandemic in Wisconsin.
- WI Daily: 350 New COVID-19 Cases - Urban Milwaukee - Mar 5th, 2021
- DHS and Laboratory Partners Identify Variant Strain B.1.351 of SARS-CoV-2 in Wisconsin - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Mar 5th, 2021
- Many South Side Seniors Now Eligible for Vaccination at Kosciuszko Community Center - Sup. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez - Mar 5th, 2021
- State Vaccine Hotline Up and Running - Graham Kilmer - Mar 5th, 2021
- County Targeting Vulnerable ZIP Codes for Vaccine - Graham Kilmer - Mar 5th, 2021
- Ron Johnson Pushes Conspiracies Ahead of Possible Third Term - Shawn Johnson - Mar 5th, 2021
- Gov. Evers, DHS Announce 1 Million Wisconsinites Have Received at Least One Dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine - Gov. Tony Evers - Mar 5th, 2021
- Evers Proposes COVID-19 Child Care Aid - Laurel White - Mar 4th, 2021
- WI Daily: 677 New COVID-19 Cases - Urban Milwaukee - Mar 4th, 2021
- MKE County: COVID-19 No Longer Declining in Milwaukee - Graham Kilmer - Mar 4th, 2021
Read more about Coronavirus Pandemic here
- Suit Asks State Supreme Court to Toss Mask Order - Erik Gunn - Feb 11th, 2021
- Op Ed: Why the War on Masks? Gerrymandering - Mel Barnes - Feb 7th, 2021
- Will Supreme Court Act on Mask Mandate? - Erik Gunn - Feb 6th, 2021
- Rep. Robyn Vining Supports Wearing Masks to Save Lives - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Feb 5th, 2021
- Rep. Rodriguez: Authors Legislation to Create Statewide Mask Order - State Rep. Sara Rodriguez - Feb 5th, 2021
- Democrats Take Action to Protect Public Health - State Sen. Jon Erpenbach - Feb 5th, 2021
- Rep. Bowen Statement on Senate Joint Resolution 3 and Executive Order #105 - State Rep. David Bowen - Feb 4th, 2021
- Republicans End Mask Mandate, Evers Puts It Back In Place - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 4th, 2021
- Rep. Robyn Vining Responds to Assembly Republicans’ Actions to Disregard the Lives and Livelihoods of Wisconsinites - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Feb 4th, 2021
- Gov. Evers Puts Public Health Before Politics, Signs New Public Health Emergency - Gov. Tony Evers - Feb 4th, 2021
Read more about Statewide Mask Mandate here