Assembly Republicans should ask themselves a few questions this week before voting on the governor’s mask mandate.
Do they want schools open for our children?
Do they want customers to feel safe going to local stores?
Do they want fewer people contracting COVID-19 so the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths — which remain high — continue to decline in Wisconsin?
If the answer is “yes,” then they should vote “no” on repealing Gov. Tony Evers’ emergency order.
The Republican-led Senate recklessly voted 18-13 last week to remove the Democratic governor’s requirement that people cover their faces inside public spaces as the pandemic rages on. Two Republicans — Sens. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield, and Robert Cowles of Green Bay — joined all Democrats in opposing the Senate’s action. Now the resolution goes to the Assembly with even more reason to stick with masks: Repealing the governor’s order could cost Wisconsin $49 million a month in federal food assistancefor nearly a quarter of a million low-income households.
Republican leaders have a plan to protect the federal money. They’ve added language to a broader COVID-19 relief bill allowing the governor to issue emergency orders only to collect the aid.
But that may not work. Moreover, the Assembly jeopardized that larger COVID relief bill last week by monkeying with a delicate deal the Senate and governor had negotiated.
What a mess.
This shouldn’t be so complicated. Just keep the governor’s mask mandate in place for now. It’s simple, and it works.
Despite little enforcement, most people wear masks when they go inside public spaces because of the governor’s rule. It’s a small inconvenience that helps slow transmission and protect vulnerable loved oneswho are more susceptible to the disease. It also makes customers feel more confident venturing into stores, and it limits community spread so schools can safely open.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, claims the repeal is about “the rule of law” and not “whether face masks are good or bad.” The governor shouldn’t be able to issue multiple emergency orders for the same pandemic without the Legislature’s OK, Nass contends.
Some critics claim the mask mandate violates personal freedom. They’re wrong. It doesn’t apply to people in their homes. It doesn’t require masks outside, where the chance of transmission is low. It merely requires face coverings inside public spaces to protect the lives of others, not just an individual’s. That’s similar to how speed limits protect our highways.
More than 55 groups — hospitals, churches, chambers of commerce and educators — are urging lawmakers to keep the governor’s mandate. Not one group has registered for repeal.
With nearly 6,000 people dead from COVID-19 and more than 1,000 new cases each day in Wisconsin, this shouldn’t be a partisan battle. Three-quarters of Wisconsin residents say they support the governor’s mask rulein a survey. A bipartisan majority of the Assembly should, too.