(Reuters) – Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers renewed his COVID-19 emergency health order and statewide mask mandate on Thursday, shortly after the state’s Republican-controlled legislature voted to repeal his earlier order requiring face coverings in public places.
The showdown followed months of rancor and legal battles between Evers, a Democrat, and Republican lawmakers over a series of restrictions he has imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Republicans have argued that Evers has repeatedly exceeded his authority as governor by issuing executive orders lasting more than 60 days without seeking approval of the legislature. The governor has countered that he has the power to renew mask-wearing orders and related restrictions under a public health emergency posed by a deadly pandemic.
Although medical experts say face coverings are one of the most effective means for breaking the transmission cycle of the respiratory virus, mask-wearing became deeply politicized during the Trump administration.
Announcing his latest orders on Thursday, Evers cited an opinion poll showing Wisconsin residents overwhelmingly support mask requirements for public places.
It was not immediately clear what additional action the legislature might take to impose its will against the governor.
Last year, a stay-at-home order issued by Evers was invalidated by the state Supreme Court in a lawsuit that Republican lawmakers brought against the lockdown.
Assuming Evers’ order remains intact, Wisconsin would rank among 37 U.S. states requiring people to cover their mouth and nose in public, according to an American Association of Retired Persons tally.
In a letter to Evers before Thursday’s repeal vote, Republican leaders criticized the governor for a “go-it-alone approach” that they said has crippled Wisconsin’s economy.
They urged him to work with the legislature to enact “reasonable masking requirements” limited to healthcare facilities, nursing and assisted-living facilities, mass transit, state offices, schools, universities and prisons.
Evers’ order requires most individuals to wear masks within all enclosed spaces – including outdoor bars, restaurants and public transit – except at home alone or in the company of one’s own household members.
The governor’s latest decree came hours after the state Assembly voted 52-42 to adopt a Senate-passed repeal resolution. Seven Assembly Republicans joined the entire Democratic caucus in supporting Evers.
U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to cast mask-wearing as a patriotic duty.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler)