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Legislative leaders sue over ‘Safer at Home’ extension; Evers accuses GOP of ‘power grab’

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Republican legislative leaders sued leaders at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Tuesday over Governor Tony Evers' decision in tandem with DHS to extend the 'Safer at Home' order until May 26.

Evers responded to the lawsuit by telling reporters on a call Tuesday the efforts amount to a play for political power.

"People die every day because of this and the more we screw around with it, the more people die," Evers said.

In announcing the lawsuit, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the state's legislative branch should also have a hand in determining how and when Wisconsin begins to reopen.

"The governor has denied the people a voice through this unprecedented administrative overreach," their statement said. "Unfortunately, that leaves the legislature no choice but to ask the Supreme Court to rein in this obvious abuse of power."

Evers said his office has repeatedly tried to involve Republican leaders in the decision-making process.

"We have tried to involve the Republican legislators and - through their staffs and otherwise - to help us, to work with us on this, they have turned down every offer to go with our folks at the operations center, never happened," Evers said.

Howard Schweber, a UW-Madison political science and law professor, said the state Supreme Court would be navigating a legal gray area in reviewing the case.

"In general, the emergency powers statutes in Wisconsin, as elsewhere, are written in vague and general terms," Schweber said. "It's not the case, for example, that the governor is empowered to declare an emergency for X number of days. Or the governor can declare an emergency but after N number of days, must consult with the Legislature; that's not how the rules are written."

Dispute over standards

The Evers administration said its criteria for reopening the state under the "Badger Bounce Back" plan is closely aligned with the Trump administration's standards set in the White House's "Opening Up America Again" plan.

Republican lawmakers argue Evers goes unnecessarily beyond the measures laid out by the Trump administration for reaching 'phase one' of reopening.

GOP lawmakers believe Evers' benchmark of 85,000 COVID-19 tests per week is excessive. The Evers administration said its goals assign specific goals to the Opening Up America Again plan's guidance to increase testing and contact tracing capabilities before reopening.

Reopen by region?

Republican lawmakers have proposed loosening restrictions in parts of the state that have seen few or no COVID-19 hospitalizations. On Tuesday's call, Evers acknowledged the situation on the ground varies greatly across the state.

Evers said he's had conversations with business owners in counties that have experienced little or no impact.

"I've made two points: one is we have to make sure we have the ability to take care of a surge in those areas and, two, if it's possible, we will do what we can to be representative to possibly do things in a way that helps them," Evers said. "Clearly, Wisconsin is not all the same and we've readily admitted that all the way along."

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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