Monroe County residents won’t have to worry about getting a ticket for not wearing masks.
District Attorney Kevin Croninger said Friday he doesn’t believe Gov. Tony Evers has the authority to issue a statewide order. Evers issued a public health emergency Thursday requiring anyone ages 5 and older to wear masks in all enclosed places except a person’s home. The order runs through Sept. 28 and subjects violators to a $200 fine.
Croninger said Evers’ emergency powers expired two months after he issued the first public health emergency in March. Croninger said the governor needs approval from the Legislature to enforce a mandate.
“There has to be a valid statute in place,” Croninger said. “He can go through the right channels and the right process.”
Croninger, a Republican, said he takes no position on mask-wearing. Evers, a Democrat, has clashed with the Republican-controlled Legislature and a Republican-leaning state Supreme Court over the scope of his emergency powers. The court invalidated the governor’s stay-at-home order in May.
“I know masks have been a hot-button issue politically, and I take no position on that,” Croninger said.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Tomah Police Department both posted Facebook messages Friday asking citizens not to call their offices to report violations. Monroe County Sheriff Wes Revels said it wasn’t practical for his office to enforce the order.
“To some degree, it’s a resources issue,” Revels said. “We can’t follow up on every complaint that involves a mask.”
Area health officials praised the mandate. Megan Meller, infection control specialist for Gundersen Health System, says she is “very happy” with the requirement of face coverings, noting she “definitely wished it would have happened sooner” but is grateful action is being taken now, especially with the impending school year.
Meller acknowledges that the mask issue has been divisive, and is appreciative of the individuals and businesses that have already been adhering to what was previously suggested but unrequired guidance from health professionals and entities.
“I’m proud of Wisconsin for issuing a mandate...I think we’ve always been a forward-thinking state and a forward-thinking community,” Meller said. “It’s being done to protect the good of everyone.”
She hopes those who were reticent before will take the mandate seriously, saying, “I think the community is going in the right direction, and I think this might change the mindset” of those who have been resisting.
Revels agreed that people should continue to take precautions and said his office will continue to respond to reports from businesses who have asked an individual to leave for not wearing a mask..
“We got through the first part COVID through voluntary compliance,” he said. “People continue to do the practical things out of concern for themselves and others.”
Tomah police chief Mark Nicholson in a Facebook post said, “We want everyone to be safe in their daily lives and encourage those that wish to follow the order to do so.”
A pair of local lawmakers opposed the mandate. State Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Points, accused the governor of letting “panic” dictate public policy.
“The governor’s one-size-fits-all approach treats Milwaukee and Madison the same as Wautoma and Arpin,” Testin said. “That’s a misguided and heavy-handed approach that I simply don’t support.”
State Rep. Nancy VanderMeer questioned the legality and science of the order.
“Issuing another public health emergency after the expiration of a previous order for the same reason is extremely questionable at best and very likely outright illegal at its worst,” VanderMeer said.
Emily Pyrek of the La Crosse Tribune contributed to this story.
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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