Several Republicans in the state Legislature are criticizing the move by Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday to extend his ‘Safer at Home’ order for the state to May 26, in an attempt to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Wisconsin. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, issued a joint statement expressing frustration with Evers’ move. [caption id="attachment_468692" align="alignright" width="150"] Robin Vos[/caption] “Our phones have been ringing off the hook since the announcement came out,” Vos and Steineke said. “People are frustrated and so are we…While everyone shares the goal of protecting public health, the governor’s order goes too far. The Safer at Home order’s main intent was to flatten the curve, which we have successfully done to this point, not devastate our families…People are not only afraid of the virus, they’re afraid of losing their livelihood. We all know the governor can’t control the coronavirus, but he can control the impact on the state’s economy. With the economic costs growing daily, we must begin the recovery process before the economic damage can’t be undone.” “Legislative Republicans are planning to act with legal and legislative options to deal with the extension of the order and get answers to the questions our constituents are demanding," Vos and Steineke said. As of Friday, Wisconsin had 4,045 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 205 people in the state have died from the virus, according to the state Department of Health Services. The first case of COVID-19 in Wisconsin was confirmed on Feb. 5. Evers' original 'Safer at Home' order was issued on March 24 and was set to expire on April 24, before he extended it on Thursday. [caption id="attachment_498385" align="alignright" width="150"] Gov. Tony Evers[/caption] “A few weeks ago, we had a pretty grim outlook for what COVID-19 could mean for our state, but because of the efforts of all of you, Safer at Home is working. That said, we aren’t out of the woods just yet,” Evers said. “As I’ve said all along, we are going to rely on the science and public health experts to guide us through this challenge. So, as we extend Safer at Home, I need all of you to continue doing the good work you’ve been doing so we can keep our families, our neighbors, and our communities safe, and get through this storm together.” In his new order, Evers loosened some restrictions allowing libraries and craft stores to do curbside pick-up or deliveries, allowing golf courses to reopen and allowing external lawn care and construction to continue if it's done by one person. However, the Safer at Home order has had a devastating effect on the state's economy as many of the state's business have been forced to either reduce operations significantly, or completely shut down. As the job losses and economic pain mount, some Legislators are growing increasingly anxious for Evers to re-open more of the state's economy. “Heck no, we can’t stay home! We need to work! This is the message my constituents are telling me. We need to proceed safely and smartly, but we need to open Wisconsin,” said Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukehsa. “Business leaders need to begin thinking about how they will keep their customers safe and begin putting plans in place…We need to have honest public dialog about the potential costs of shutdown and the costs of the virus. The costs go beyond economic. Prolonged, extreme social distancing measures will have severe mental health consequences, severe domestic abuse consequences, severe alcohol and drug abuse and addiction consequences...Additionally, we know from past experience that the economic consequences of recession, or even depression, will disproportionately affect the poor. People say that there are life or death consequences with opening up. Absolutely, and there are quality of life consequences to remaining closed as well.” President Donald Trump on Thursday issued guidelines for how to reopen the nation's economy after most of it has been shut down to confront COVID-19, but he said governors will make the call on when social distancing requirements like 'Safer at Home' are lifted. Most state governors have enacted shelter in place orders like 'Safer at Home,' but some are protesting and demanding that they be lifted. “For weeks I have been speaking with constituents who are furloughed employees, family-owned small business people, farmers, and average citizens who are distraught about the impact of this COVID-19 crisis,” said state Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc. “We all want people safe and for the government action to be proportionate to the actual illness. However, at some point what was meant to stop the medical system from becoming overwhelmed has morphed into statistically unsupported missteps that are exacerbating the economic impact of this dilemma. The proportion of reaction to the coronavirus is completely inconsistent with the number of cases and losses in this state…Constituents have stated that they believe the governor’s press conferences have shown him to be less than understanding of the plight of average citizens in this crisis. They share my belief that we can open up parts of the workforce with prudence and discretion…I believe the actions of this governor are tone deaf at best. The governor should hear the people in tears or anguish because they stand to financially lose everything they have worked so hard for because of his decisions.” “I completely disagree with Governor Evers' decision to extend his Safer at Home Emergency Order,” said state Rep. Adam Neylon, Pewaukee. “Not only is it bad policy, it infringes on our rights as private citizens...We should be looking at ways to reopen our economy regionally and by sector, in conjunction with an overarching plan to maintain public safety. I will do everything within my power to push back on Governor Evers' latest power grab.” “I am publicly asking Governor Evers to lift more restrictions and put forth a prescriptive plan to reopen the state for business,” said state Rep. Chuck Wichgers, R-Muskego. “We have witnessed success in flattening the curve and our cases are far below (the state Department of Health Services’) model projections… I’m ready for our freedom and so are my constituents…The governor has failed and is continuing to fail to lead and work with our legislature to set metrics that will protect our businesses and our economy.” The number of COVID-19 cases is highest in the urbanized areas of the state and state Rep. Rob Swearingen, R-Rhinelander, said the ‘Safer at Home’ order shouldn’t be applied the same to the entire state. “Instead of applying a one-size-fits-all approach to Wisconsin, I believe we in the Northwoods can protect our loved ones, prevent the spread of the virus, and open up our economy,” Swearingen said in a news release. “The governor’s decision to extend the order through the Memorial Day holiday will devastate local businesses such as resorts, restaurants, taverns and many other retail and specialty stores…The process of opening up our economy could be gradual, and the public will have to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines as well as take common sense precautions, but we can and must get people back to work.” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, who is also a candidate for Congress, also criticized Evers’ move as a “one-size-fits-all approach” that doesn't consider the different impact COVID-19 is having on rural parts of the state compared to urbanized areas. “Thousands of people throughout the state are without jobs and our state is hurting," Fitzgerald said. “Unfortunately, what was announced (Thursday) seems to be another one-size-fits-all approach. Rural counties of our state haven’t seen nearly the number of cases that urban and suburban areas have, yet are bearing the full economic impacts of this crisis. While we all want to keep people safe, some regions of the state remain less affected by the virus than others – this order doesn’t recognize that.” Major state business groups are also weighing in on Evers' extension of 'Safer at Home.' Shortly after Evers announced the extension, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president Tim Sheehy, called for a phased restart of the state's economy. Kurt Bauer, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's largest business group, said the organization understood that Evers needed to take action in March, "to project lives, but the time has come to also protect livelihoods." [caption id="attachment_446933" align="alignright" width="150"] Kurt Bauer[/caption] "We have asked numerous times to have an open discussion about how government and the business community can work together to strategically and safely restart the economy," Bauer said. "Unfortunately, the governor chose to ignore thousands of businesses, workers and their families who were looking for even the slightest glimmer of hope that the economy could reopen. WMC believes protecting Wisconsinites’ health and restarting our economy are not mutually exclusive. A well thought-out plan could have slowly phased in certain geographic areas of the state and worked with specific industries to ensure they could properly protect their employees. This could have put us back on gradual path toward economic normalcy while still taking critical steps to safeguard people’s health." Get more news and insight in the March 30 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee. Subscribe to get updates in your inbox here.
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