Gov. Evers makes next move in allowing DHS to craft new emergency rule

Published: May. 14, 2020 at 7:39 PM CDT
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Less than 24 hours after the state Supreme Court quashed the Department of Health Services’ extension of the state’s ‘Safer at Home’ order, thereby ending all the restrictions it placed on residents and businesses, Gov. Tony Evers moved to restore the emergency powers to his health agency.

Noting that the state Justices determined the extension was invalid because the agency issued the directive as an ‘order’ and without consultation with the legislature, he tasked health officials with creating a ‘rule,’ which requires public input and consultation with lawmakers.

Evers took the first step Thursday, when he released the framework for the rule change, a so-called Statement of Scope, that will be put forth for public input starting Monday.

The agency is tasked with two goals, limiting the spread of COVID-19 to healthy Wisconsinites, i.e. the “boxing in” phase of the Badger Bounce Back plan, and reopening the business sector without jeopardizing long-term economic growth by risking a second wave of the virus.

The scope statement puts forth that, barring legislative action, any DHS rule will require affording the agency the power to regulate social distancing. It states that with no vaccine or treatment “there is no viable alternative.”

Following the ten-day public comment period, DHS officials will take the feedback provided and draft its proposed rule.

Once that 10-day period is over, DHS can publish the rule, going into effect immediately. However, the legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules does have authority to meet and make changes to it if they deem it necessary.

“Whether it will be a repeat of the ‘Safer at Home’ order or something that will be negotiated between the legislature and the department is yet to be seen,” said Republican Rep. Joan Ballweg, who co-chairs that committee.

Prior to Evers issuing the scope statement, he met with Republican lawmakers to discuss where the state should go following the Supreme Court’s verdict. Afterwards, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos indicated both sides might not be able to come to an agreement. The Republican lawmaker said a statewide policy may not be necessary.

“We already know that local health departments have the ability to utilize their power, which is already there to deal with those situations if they feel it’s unsafe,” Vos said.

Evers, however, disagreed with the idea that different rules for different parts of the state would work, adding, “I can’t imagine another state that is in this predicament.”

The emergency rule can be in effect for up to 150 days, and then the agency would need to ask for an extension if needed, according to staff of Rep. Ballweg’s office.

The Associated Press contributed to this article