Wisconsin economy begins to reopen after Supreme Court ruling

About two weeks before Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order was set to expire on May 26, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck it down. By a 4-3 majority, the court ruled the governor’s order was unlawful, invalid and unenforceable.

The “Safer at Home” order was an attempt to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the state and keep the health care system from becoming overwhelmed by a potential surge in patients. Several businesses were deemed “essential” by the order and allowed to maintain full or partial operations, but the order also had the effect of shutting down much of the state’s economy, resulting in significant job losses since it was put in place by Evers in late March. Recently, Evers had eased some restrictions of the order, such as letting golf courses open.

The Supreme Court ruling allowed many businesses in the state to reopen. Some welcomed customers almost immediately, while others took steps to modify their operations with protective measures for employees and customers, and still other businesses said they were not ready to reopen yet.

Local governments responded with some maintaining local stay-at-home orders. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the city’s stay-at-home order would remain in place. It includes bans on public gatherings, non-essential business, operations and travel, and does not have an end date. Barrett later modified the order to allow barbershops, salons and child care centers to reopen, but bars and restaurants remain closed except for curbside or delivery services.

“We’ve been working to have, ready to go, if necessary, a local order that would deal with the reopening of businesses,” Barrett said. “And that’s what our goal is – our goal is to reopen businesses but to reopen them in a safe fashion.”

Barrett cautioned against opening business too soon.

“If there was just a light switch, and we said the businesses are reopened, there’s absolutely no guarantee that people would have the confidence to go into businesses,” he said. “So, we have to make sure that people not only are safe but they feel safe.”

Most Milwaukee County suburbs established a similar stay-at-home order through May 21, eight days after the state Supreme Court ruling.

The city of Racine extended its stay-at-home order through May 26 and said a phased and gradual reopening of the local economy would begin then. The city said it would restrict large gatherings through July 31.

Kenosha County said it would extend its stay-at-home order through May 26, but then quickly reversed course after the Wisconsin Counties Association provided guidance that said the state Supreme Court order could also apply to local governments.

Waukesha County executive Paul Farrow encouraged businesses to follow CDC and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. guidelines for reopening.

“While there is no longer a ‘Safer at Home’ order, there is still COVID-19 in our community. Be smart, be vigilant, and stay safe,” he said.

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.

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