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UPDATE 1-Wisconsin governor clashes with lawmakers over statewide mask mandate to curb coronavirus

· 02/04/2021 18:41
UPDATE 1-Wisconsin governor clashes with lawmakers over statewide mask mandate to curb coronavirus

Adds details of legislature's vote, background

By Steve Gorman

- Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers renewed his statewide mask-wearing mandate on Thursday, defying votes by the Republican-controlled legislature to repeal his earlier order requiring face coverings in public spaces to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor issued his latest decree of a public health emergency hours after the state Assembly voted 52-42 to end his previous mask mandate, adopting a resolution the Senate approved a week ago.

Seven Republicans in the Assembly joined the body's entire Democratic caucus on Thursday in opposing the repeal.

The showdown followed months of rancor and legal battles between Evers, a Democrat elected in 2018, and the Republican-dominated legislature over a series of restrictions he has imposed on social and business life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republicans have argued that Evers has repeatedly exceeded his authority as governor by unilaterally 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 other COVID-related restrictions under a public health emergency posed by a deadly pandemic. And he cited a public opinion poll from October showing that Wisconsin residents overwhelmingly supported mask-wearing 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 the governor was invalidated by the state Supreme Court in a lawsuit that Republican lawmakers brought against the lockdown.

Although medical experts insist that masks are one of the most effective means for breaking the transmission cycle of the highly contagious respiratory virus, mask-wearing became deeply politicized during the Trump administration.

President Joe Biden has sought to cast wearing of a mask as a patriotic duty since he took office on Jan. 20.

Assuming Evers' mask mandate remains intact, Wisconsin ranks among 37 U.S. states requiring people to cover their mouth and nose in public, according to a tally by the American Association of Retired Persons.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago
Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)

((steve.gorman@thomsonreuters.com; 310-491-7256; Reuters Messaging: steve.gorman.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))