After a contentious first month of the new legislative session, Governor Tony Evers vetoed Assembly Bill 1 (AB 1), the first bill to reach his desk this year. AB 1, a comprehensive proposal to address COVID-19 in Wisconsin, included broad protections from COVID-19 liability claims for businesses, non-profits, and other entities, Unemployment Insurance reforms sought by the governor, as well as provisions to help health care systems respond to the pandemic. The Senate approved the bill on Friday, February 5 after the Assembly amended and approved it a day earlier. The bill was quickly presented to the governor, who immediately vetoed it.
The Assembly’s vote replaced an earlier Senate amendment with a provision allowing the governor to declare a public health emergency related to COVID-19 for the limited purpose of keeping Wisconsin eligible for any current or future funding from the federal government. The Senate amendment was intended to resolve that issue; however, a legal memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Council noted that the amendment could actually expand the governor’s emergency powers, and it may not have kept the state eligible for future federal funds.
Initially, the governor and the Senate reached a compromise on AB 1, when the Senate voted to remove several policies from the Assembly’s original bill that the governor objected to. Then, the Assembly added back those policies and made several other changes to the bill. The Senate ultimately agreed to the Assembly’s re-amended version.
Legislature Votes to End Health Emergency, Mask Mandate; Governor Immediately Re-Issues Them
On Thursday, February 4, the Assembly approved Senate Joint Resolution 3, a resolution to terminate the governor’s public health emergency declaration and the associated statewide mask mandate. The Senate had approved the resolution the previous week. Following the vote, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said in a joint statement that the resolution would take effect the following day, after it was signed by the presiding officers of both houses.
However, immediately following the Assembly’s vote on Thursday afternoon, Governor Tony Evers announced that he had issued a new public health emergency order and subsequent mask mandate. The question of whether the governor has the power to declare consecutive states of emergency in public health crisis, as he has done since the spring of last year, has yet to be decided by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The court heard oral arguments on the issue late last year.
Following these events, the Senate majority leader was quoted as saying, “The Legislature has done our part to stop this lawlessness. Only a court can stop a Governor bent on ignoring the law.”