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Capital City Sunday: Democrats, Republicans debate Gov. Evers mask mandate

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Just a day after Gov. Tony Evers issued his statewide mask mandate, Republican lawmakers are ready to fight it.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said his caucus "stands ready" to strike down the mandate that Evers said for weeks he wasn't sure he had the authority to order.

State Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) called the governor's order a "scare tactic" and believes it's not necessary because hospitals have the capacity to treat people infected with COVID-19.

"The virus is not getting out of control, it's spreading as we fully expected it to and the great thing is that our hospitals have enough room to treat patients," said Kapenga.

The legislature would have to convene and both chambers need a simple majority to pass a joint resolution to strike down the mask mandate.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul believes the administration has broad emergency powers to require residents to wear masks.

Kaul said this order is different than the one issued by Department of Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm in April when the state enacted the "Safer at Home" order.

"I don't think anyone can look at this situation on the national level or on the state level and argue we are not in the middle of an emergency that requires these kinds of actions the governor is taking," said Kaul.

State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) started a petition to gauge how many Wisconsinites support a mask mandate before Evers issued one.

The Milwaukee democrat was encouraged by the support for his petition, which he says was widespread across the state, even in Republican districts.

"For most people, they don't see this as a partisan issue, it's one of science and following what they know is best and following what other counties are doing," said Larson.

When asked about tough budgeting decisions this fall as the pandemic continues to take a toll on the economy, Larson urged his Republican colleagues to meet for a special session to act before the virus gets worse.

"Hopefully voters do punish lawmakers if they do say they won't come back into session until after the election," he said. "We should have come in already to make sure we are not standing on a financial cliff."

Lawmakers could meet to pass a budget repair bill, but Evers has not called for one yet. Instead, he's ordered the Department of Administration to find cost-saving initiatives.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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