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Attorney hopes safer at home lawsuit prevents future local orders

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Seventeen Wisconsin residents from across the state filed a federal lawsuit alleging 'safer at home' orders are unconstitutional at every level of government.

The plaintiffs include business owners, religious leaders, hopefuls in the Aug. 11 primary and the organizer of the April 24 protest. Joe Voiland, the founder of Veterans Liberty Law, is the attorney representing all of them.

"They want to know, 'Can I go to work? Can I go to church?' And they don't want those rules changing willy nilly," he said.

The case has 21 defendants including state and local Wisconsin public safety and health officials, including Evers and all members of the state elections commission.

The suit alleged those officials and all local governments that added safer at home orders after the Supreme Court struck down the statewide plan violated Wisconsin's first amendment rights to assemble, practice religion and petition the government.

"I think they were put in without a whole lot of thought," Voiland said.

The complaint filed for the case argues the emergency order ended with the Supreme Court ruling so any extension of those rules at any level violate essential freedoms.

State and local government officials disagree. Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes maintains the original DHS order was legal, but says these local orders are still admissible even under the Supreme Court ruling.

"The Supreme Court order that stuck down safer at home didn't even touch on the state statute that covers local ordinances and their ability to enforce measures to keep people safe especially in an emergency situation," he said.

Barnes said those orders were only necessary because the Supreme Court decision didn't allow any time to form a statewide rule.

"Now we're left with this confusion and now we have anybody who thinks that they can strike down these orders that maintain safety," he said.

Voiland said that's a simplification of the Supreme Court ruling.

"If they are suggesting that Supreme Court's decision is based only on a procedural issue about a rule versus an order they're wrong," he said. "The court was very clear that even if the order had been in place proceduraly correct it went far beyond the scope of what that type of what could be governed under 252 infectious diseases for a health officer."

He also criticized the argument that the orders were necessary to prevent confusion.

"If there's a confusion in place, figure it out before you take people's rights away," Voiland said.

He pointed to the fact that several municipalities and counties including Rock and Green have rescinded their orders. Though, he said that doesn't mean they shouldn't be a part of this lawsuit.

"The fact that a county has already violated somebody's rights makes them an appropriate party to be in the lawsuit," he said.

The lawsuit also brought up communication between the Outagamie County executive and Attorney General Josh Kaul as proof counties could look for ways to continue this order.

"There's every indication that the defendants, even the defendants who have rescinded this order may put one back in place," Voiland said.

The message from Outagamie County asks for a clarification from the AG about what the Supreme Court ruling means for local governments.

The recommendation from Kaul said the Supreme Court does not seem to take any emergency powers away from local governments though he cautioned those communities against criminal enforcement of safer at home orders.

Voiland said regardless of whether or not counties plan to create new safer at home orders he wants his lawsuit to make that impossible.

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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