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To enforce capacity limits, state health officials must go through "rules process"

Posted at 5:50 PM, Oct 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-12 18:52:55-04

MADISON, Wis. — Republican lawmakers pushed back on the governor's directive to limit indoor public gatherings.

During an executive session on Monday, the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules voted along party lines, 6 to 4, that health leaders must put their order through the rules process.

For roughly 48 minutes, socially distanced lawmakers butted heads.

"If this moves forward we're going to be delaying further action in our state as we are going through an outbreak. It seems asinine to have an academic discussion in an ivory tower," said State Senator Chris Larson of Milwaukee.

"This is not a debate on COVID it's a debate on whether DHS (Department of Health Services) is following the law and I would argue they are not following the law. They are breaking the law," said State Senator Steve Nass of Whitewater.

Twice, State Representative Joan Ballweg pointed to Milwaukee's response to the state order.

"I would point out Milwaukee feels that their response in opening is more comprehensive and better than what the governor has put out, that’s why they’re not going to enforce what is currently in this order," said Ballweg.

Lawmakers debated the Wisconsin Supreme Court's previous ruling overturning the governor's safer at home order in the spring.

Republicans argued Health Secretary Designee Andrea Palm has to go through the rules process when it came to emergency orders. While democrats countered that the ruling kept Palm's power to limit gatherings intact.

Before Monday's vote, a spokesperson for the governor maintained they were still waiting for the Republican response plan to the pandemic and that Emergency Order 3, limiting the capacity for indoor public gatherings, falls in line with the Wisconsin Supreme Court's past ruling.

Ballweg argued going through the official rule process would give lawmakers a chance to work together.

DHS has 30 days to comply. The official rule process would call for a public hearing. As it is in any case, the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules would have the power to suspend parts of the rule or the whole thing.

A spokesperson for Governor Evers repsonded to a request for comment with Evers' letter requesting another meeting with Speaker Robin Vos and Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

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