Wisconsin Republican legislators sue to block stay-at-home orders

Wisconsin and other US states have seen a string of protests against measures aimed at containing the coronavirus.

A closed sign hangs on the door outside a J Crew store in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin [Morry Gash/AP Photo]

Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled state legislature on Tuesday took to the courts in an attempt to force health officials in that state to rescind an extended stay-at-home order intended to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican leaders filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court seeking to block officials with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services from extending a “safer-at-home” emergency order through May 26.

In a written statement, Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald argued that the order is an “abuse of power” and exceeds the statutory powers of Democratic Governor Tony Evers’s executive branch.

“The public outcry over the Safer at Home order continues to increase as positive COVID cases decrease or remain flat,” the pair said. “Other Midwestern states with more confirmed cases, like Ohio, have set firm dates to begin a phased reopening far earlier than the Evers administration.”

The lawsuit came as Vice President Mike Pence said during a tour of a Madison ventilator manufacturer on Tuesday that social distancing and other mitigation efforts are slowing the spread of COVID-19.

To date, 242 people have died in Wisconsin and more than 4,600 have tested positive for coronavirus.

Wisconsin Primary
Jim Carpenter protests against a primary election amid the coronavirus pandemic in early April in downtown Milwaukee. At least seven people who voted in the election have now been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 after voting in the election. [File: Morry Gash/AP Photo]

Evers ordered state health officials to issue a stay-at-home order for state residents in late March that shuttered many businesses across the state until April 24. Last week, the order was extended but some of its restrictions of non-essential businesses were lifted.

“These steps will help us reduce the risk of a second wave of the virus,” the secretary-designee of the state Department of Health Services, Andrea Palm, said when announcing the extension. “If we open up too soon, we risk overwhelming our hospitals and requiring more drastic physical distancing measures again.”
Taking to Twitter on Tuesday, Governor Evers said the Republican lawsuit was a blatant power grab that would cripple the state’s efforts to deal with the pandemic.

“This isn’t a game,” Evers said. “This isn’t funny. People die every day because of this virus – often times painful and lonely deaths – and the more we delay or play political games the more people die.”

Wisconsin and several other states across the US have seen a string of protests – many backed by conservative groups allied with President Donald Trump and organised on Facebook and other social media platforms – against measures aimed at containing the coronavirus.

Organisers of the latest rally in Wisconsin, planned for Friday on the grounds of the state capitol in Madison, were informed that their request for a permit was denied by the state Department of Administration because the gathering would violate current orders barring public gatherings of any size.

An organiser of the event, Madison Elmer, said on Wednesday it would go ahead despite the possibility that participants could be cited by law enforcement officers. More than 3,300 people said on the group’s Facebook page that they planned to go and another 12,000 said they were “interested” in attending.

“I think our message is bigger than that to be worried about it,” Elmer told the Associated Press news agency. “I’m willing to risk citation for everybody else that’s speaking to be able to be heard.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies