Gov. Evers issues new mask order amid GOP threat to eliminate it

NOW: Gov. Evers issues new mask order amid GOP threat to eliminate it

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Governor Tony Evers issued a new emergency order and a new statewide mask order just an hour after the Assembly voted to repeal his previous mask requirement. 

Republicans in the Assembly voted Thursday, Feb. 4, to end the mask mandate, striking down Governor Evers' emergency health order. But their effort didn’t last long. 

The governor quickly put the mask requirement back in effect, saying it was necessary to save lives. 

“We know that wearing face coverings can save lives and prevent death,” Evers said in a video message. “If the Legislature keeps playing politics and we don’t keep wearing masks, we're going to see more preventable deaths.”

The vote to eliminate the mask order was opposed by nearly 60 organizations, a majority of them involved in health care, all urging Republicans to reconsider. 

Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa) said health care professionals in her district told her they were terrified of what could happen if the mask requirement would be overturned.

“It’s a slap in the face to our health care heroes,” said Vining. “You threaten the economy and people really might die. I’m incredibly distraught we have reached a point in political discourse in Wisconsin that stares death in the face.”

Republicans for weeks have said the issue is not about masks but instead because they believe the governor overstepped his authority in issuing multiple emergency orders throughout the pandemic. 

The governor is allowed to declare emergency orders that can last up to 60 days and then the Legislature can extend them, but Republicans never agreed to that. 

“Unfortunately under Gov. Evers' rules, he never needs to cooperate with us and just do what he wants,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester). 

Republicans defended their vote to repeal the mask mandate, arguing Evers can’t issue orders back-to-back without input from the Legislature.

“Whatever (Evers') intentions are, as pure as they may be, that’s not how our system of government works,” said Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna).

The Wisconsin Supreme Court could also repeal Evers' mask mandate, which would require him to get approval from the Legislature before issuing emergency orders. 

The high court could also rule Evers doesn’t have to, which would leave it up to lawmakers to strike down his orders related to the pandemic. 

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said the fate of the mask mandate should be left up to the justices on the court. 

A conservative law firm, who’s been involved in challenging Evers' emergency power called his actions “a constitutional crisis.”

"Governor Evers' actions have provoked a constitutional crisis in Wisconsin,” said WILL President & General Counsel Rick Esenberg. “To, once again, seize unilateral emergency powers in the face of a legislative vote to cancel an emergency is a threat to our system of government and the rule of law.”

Democratic Majority Leader Gordon Hintz defended Evers' decision.

“Governor Evers is demonstrating he’s going to do what’s right for the state, it's not about politics, he’s using his executive authority to take measures that we need to manage COVID,” said Hintz.

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