Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty
Press Release

Wisconsin’s Emergency Powers Laws in Urgent Need of Reform

New study examines Wisconsin’s emergency powers laws, provides recommendations for reform

By - Feb 24th, 2021 07:30 am

The News: A new study from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) makes the case that Wisconsin’s antiquated emergency powers statutes are in urgent need of reform. The report, titled More Than “A Little Danger:” Reforming Wisconsin’s Emergency Powers After COVID-19, provides an in-depth examination of the state of Wisconsin’s emergency powers laws and how they have failed to protect liberty and the separation of powers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Join us for a Zoom webinar this Friday at 11 am on Wisconsin’s emergency powers laws.

The Quote: WILL Deputy Counsel, Dan Lennington, said, “Governor Evers has proven that a determined and unaccountable executive can abuse Wisconsin’s emergency powers laws in such a way that the legislative branch is rendered inoperative. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, reforming Wisconsin’s emergency powers laws ought to be a top priority.”

Diving Deeper: For much the last year, Wisconsin’s regular constitutional order has been suspended as a result of consecutive statewide public health emergency orders issued by Governor Tony Evers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A new study by WILL Deputy Counsel, Dan Lennington, provides a first-of-its-kind examination of Wisconsin’s emergency powers laws, the dangers to liberty and the rule of law, and recommendations for reform. Some of the key findings from More Than “A Little Danger:” Reforming Wisconsin’s Emergency Powers After COVID-19, include:

  • Wisconsin’s antiquated emergency-powers statutes grant the governor and other officials seemingly limitless powers. Relatively unchanged since the 1960s, Wisconsin state laws grant the governor and other officials seemingly limitless emergency powers to issue any orders they deem “necessary” to respond to a disaster or a public-health emergency like COVID-19.
  • During COVID-19, Wisconsin officials have wielded this power in extraordinary ways. State officials have issued over 50 emergency orders and kept Wisconsin in a state of emergency for more than 300 days. The scope of many of these orders have been extremely broad.
  • Existing law does not adequately protect individual liberties or the separation of powers. This current legal framework permitting rule-by-order amounts to a violation of the basic civil liberties of all Wisconsinites, and a substantial transfer of legislative power to state and local officials, with very little oversight or participation by legislative bodies.
  • Wisconsin’s outmoded statutes are behind the curve. Other states provide more legislative-branch participation in the exercise of emergency powers and in some cases require affirmative ratification of emergency orders by the relevant legislative body.

Recommendations for Reform: With Wisconsin’s emergency powers laws proving inadequate to the task of protecting liberty and ensuring a proper role for the legislative branch, WILL is recommending the following reforms:

  • Limit emergency declarations from 60 days to 30 days.
  • Require orders to be promulgated as rules to ensure proper legislative oversight.
  • Impose legislative oversight of local emergency orders.
  • Explicitly and categorically define what types of conduct cannot be regulated by emergency orders and provide for judicial review of emergency orders.
  • Harmonize and reform enforcement powers.
  • Allow local units of government to opt-out of statewide health orders, subject to override by the Wisconsin legislature.

Read More:

Mentioned in This Press Release

Recent Press Releases by Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty

WILL Sues State Board for Race Discrimination

Higher Educational Aids Board offers scholarships with narrow racial categories

WILL President Rick Esenberg on Supreme Court Decision in Zignego v. WEC

WILL sued WEC in 2019 after state agency refused to clean up voter rolls.

WILL Budget Briefing: A Deep Dive on Governor Evers’ 2021-23 State Budget Proposal

Increases in spending, programs, and new attacks on education and worker freedom

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us