Brown Co. Health Officer reinstates previous orders issued by state following court ruling on safer-at-home extension

Published: May. 13, 2020 at 5:03 PM CDT
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The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled 4-3 that Gov. Tony Evers’ administration overstepped its authority when it extended the governor’s stay-at-home order until May 26.

Action 2 News spoke with Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) Wednesday evening, who said after a video conference with attorneys for the GOP that all businesses can now open, with no capacity limits, if local health departments allow it.

The video conference about the confusion was in regards to whether the decision to stay until May 20 was an opinion, or an order.

Steineke also told us Republicans have tried to speak with Governor Evers regarding the outcome of the court's decision, but Evers has respectfully declined their requests each time.

Evers acknowledged receiving a letter sent to him by members of the legislature during Wednesday's conference call, however he didn't say why the meeting didn't take place.

You can listen to the entire conference above.

This means there is currently no back-up plan in place, and if a county or city doesn't have an order in place, all businesses are able to open and customers are able to enter businesses as they please.

County and city health departments have been left to create their own orders regarding the pandemic, including Brown County.

Brown County Public Health Officer Anna Destree issued the following order at 8:16 p.m. Wednesday, which will be in effect until Wednesday, May 20:

In her order, Destree says any and all provisions of Emergency Orders 28, 34, and 36, which were previously issued by Palm will be applied to Brown County. We have attached the County's order in our related documents section in this story.

Order 28 is the Safer at Home order, while order 34 allows curbside pick up and drop offs for businesses, recreational rentals, and touchless car washes to open, and order 36, which was just issued this week, allows small businesses to open with a limit of five people inside.

Anyone who violates the Brown County order, which covers all jurisdictions within the county, could be punished by a fine of up to $500, and by any other applicable penalty found in Wisconsin Statutes Ch. 252.

Destree also issued the following statement regarding the Safer at Home ruling:

“This virus knows no boundaries, including county lines, and the most effective way to prevent, control and suppress COVID-19 is for State Officials and the State Legislature to work together and implement a statewide approach,” says Destree. “That has not occurred, and therefore reasonable and necessary local actions must be taken pursuant to the authority vested in me per Wis. Stat. Secs. 252.03 and 252.25. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise given the high number of positive cases found in Brown County.”

In the Fox Valley, the City of Appleton also issued a Safer at Home Order following the court's decision, which will become effective at 8 a.m. on May 14, and will be in effect until 8 a.m. on May 20, or until a superseding order is issued.

We have also attached that order in our related documents section of this story.

According to city officials, a media conference is planned for 1 p.m. on Thursday with Mayor Woodford and the city's Health Director.

We also reached out to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who are divided on the ruling.

"These aren't political decision. These are experts in their fields using science, using health care guidelines to try to keep people safe. You know now we're looking at a legislative policial process that's not in the public's best interest," said Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) Assembly Minority Leader.

"Even in Northeast Wisconsin, where we've had an outbreak in Brown County, a vast majority of those people that have tested positive aren't going into the hospitals. This was always about keeping the hospitals from being overrun by the virus. We've done that," said Steineke.

We also spoke with local leaders, who have their own concerns.

When we asked Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson whether he would take any action with the state order struck down, we're told it's something that could be considered.

"This is the worst possible thing that could happen, and it's the worst possible moment because we just began testing here in the Fox Valley where we will have our first thorough examination to try to figure out where we stand with this virus," said Nelson. "And now we have all of this confusion."

Meanwhile, Gov. Evers held a news conference call at 7:45 p.m. to respond to the court's decision.

Evers said he believes Republican legislators and the Wisconsin Supreme Court have thrown the state into chaos.

"They have provided no plan. There's no question among anybody that people are going to get sick. We presently lead the Midwest in having the fewest cases per capita, and Republicans own that chaos."

We are expecting to hear more from Evers on Thursday, however he did issue this statement Wednesday night following the conference call about the ruling:

“Up until now, Wisconsin was in a pretty good place in our battle against COVID-19. We had reached almost all our gating criteria. We had opened up 14,000 small businesses across the state, putting 90,000 folks back to work, and that was because of the good work of Wisconsinites across our state who banded together, stayed home, and stayed safe," said Gov. Evers. "Despite that good work, Republican legislators have convinced 4 justices to throw our state into chaos. We cannot let today's ruling undo all the work we have done and all the sacrifices Wisconsinites have made over these past few months. We need everyone to continue doing their part to keep our families, our neighbors, and our communities safe by continuing to stay safer at home, practice social distancing, and limit travel, because folks, deadly viruses don't wait around for politicians and bureaucrats to settle their differences or promulgate rules. This virus has killed more than 400 of our family members, friends, and neighbors and thousands more across our state are sick. I am disappointed in the decision today, but our top priority has been and will remain doing what we can and what we have to do to protect the health and safety of the people of our state. After months of unproductive posturing, I hope the folks in the Legislature are ready to do the same.”

Republican legislators asked the conservative-controlled Supreme Court to block the extension and let them offer their own recovery plan.

They argued that the extension amounted to state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Andrea Palm writing rules without legislative input.

The ruling marks another defeat for Evers as Republicans continue to chip away at the Democratic governor’s authority.

to read the full legal document.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald issued the following joint statement Wednesday evening about the ruling:

“When we met with Governor Evers a week ago, we asked him to begin negotiating with us on a plan for reopening. He politely declined and said we should wait for the court decision. Now that the decision has been rendered, we are confident Wisconsin citizens are up to the task of fighting the virus as we enter a new phase. The recent Marquette Law School Poll found that 77 percent said they would be comfortable visiting a friend or family member’s home. This ruling allows people to once again gather with their loved ones or visit their places of worship without the fear of violating a state order. Republicans believe business owners can safely reopen using the guidelines provided by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. We urge our fellow small business owners to utilize the suggestions as a safe and effective way to open up our state. Wisconsin now joins multiple states that don't have extensive ‘stay at home orders’ but can continue to follow good practices of social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizer usage and telecommuting. This order does not promote people to act in a way that they believe endangers their health. We would urge the Evers administration to work with us to begin promulgating rules that would provide clear guidance in case COVID-19 reoccurs in a more aggressive way. “

The court heard oral arguments regarding the extension on May 5.

During the arguments, Ryan J. Walsh, attorney for the Wisconsin Legislature, told the justices that the safer at Home extension is "unauthorized and unlawful." He says the DHS "needs to start over" and work with the legislature on a pandemic plan.

Walsh said at the time, "We now get a seat at the table, because DHS is attempting to do something even broader than the governor himself is claiming he has power to do, that is a rule, put aside the cases that fall closer to the line, this is the broadest, most sweeping order we know of in Wisconsin history."

Also during the arguments, Justice Rebecca Bradley, a member of the court's conservative wing, said she believed the order to be "tyrannical." She also stated at the time she believes it is unconstitutional to give that much power to an un-elected person-Secretary-designee Palm.

On the other side, Colin Roth, an attorney for Palm, stated during arguments that "people will die" if the order is lifted and not replaced with something else.

Roth had also stated "That's how the statutes are worded, sub 6 is worded that way, and sub 3 and 4 every single one of them says that when DHS faces an outbreak of a dangerous communicable disease, it can do what is necessary to combat that disease."

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul issued the following statement regarding the ruling late Wednesday afternoon:

“Wisconsinites’ actions have saved many lives, and we’ve made meaningful progress in the fight against the coronavirus. At the legislature’s urging, however, the plan that’s been working has largely been struck down. For decades, Wisconsin law has given the State’s chief health official the authority to ‘close schools and forbid public gatherings in schools, churches, and other places to control outbreaks and epidemics’; to ‘issue orders … for the control and suppression of communicable diseases’; and to ‘authorize and implement all emergency measures necessary to control communicable diseases.’ Wis. Stat. § 252.02(3), (4), (6). These broad grants of authority show that prior generations of lawmakers recognized that addressing a public health crisis like the one we face now can require urgent and extraordinary actions. But today’s decision means that this authority is subject to a legislative committee’s veto and that there will be a delay of more than 10 days before decisions made pursuant to this authority can go into effect. Over a week ago, I called on the legislature to act immediately. Unfortunately, it failed to do so, and Republicans in the legislature still have offered no plan to address the coronavirus. They can’t keep waiting to do so. In the middle of the fight against this virus, we need reasonable rules in place that protect Wisconsinites’ health. In the meantime, I ask all Wisconsinites to continue helping to fight the coronavirus by socially distancing and following other recommendations from public health experts.”

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Bewley (D-Mason) also issued a statement following the ruling on Wednesday:

“In times of confusion and fear, the people of Wisconsin need clear and consistent leadership. The court's decision today only adds to that uncertainty. The Executive Branch is the appropriate place for authority during a pandemic, when decisions about health and the economic well-being of the state are paramount. At a time when leadership is needed most, Wisconsin families are left with political games. Please don’t be coaxed into a false sense of security by the Supreme Court’s misguided action. Wisconsinites are resilient and when we work together to stay safer-at-home we can slow the spread and protect our most vulnerable loved ones.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.