MADISON, Wis. (AP/WCCO) — A court ruling tossing Wisconsin's stay-at-home order threw communities into chaos Thursday as local leaders were forced to decide whether to issue their own restrictions or allow bars and restaurants to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court late Wednesday afternoon ruled that the "safer at home" order from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers was invalid and threw it out effective immediately. The order forces Evers to work with the GOP-controlled Legislature on a new plan, a process that could take weeks.
The court ruling drew praise from President Donald Trump on Thursday, who referenced a victory earlier in the week by a Republican congressional candidate in a special election.
"The Great State of Wisconsin, home to Tom Tiffany's big Congressional Victory on Tuesday, was just given another win," Trump tweeted. "Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open. The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!"
Some businesses didn't waste a moment. Nick's Bar in Platteville, in far southwest Wisconsin, posted a 30-second video late Wednesday that showed the bar teeming with people drinking, talking and bobbing their heads to music.
But more liberal parts of the state were clamping down. In Dane County, home to the capital of Madison, officials quickly imposed a mandate incorporating most of the statewide order. City health officials in Milwaukee said a stay-at-home order they enacted in late March remains in effect.
As the debate on how to manage the coronavirus has grown more partisan, Republicans in other states have made similar moves. In Kansas on Wednesday, top GOP lawmakers resisted Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's request to extend a disaster declaration to mid-June, with Senate President Susan Wagle declaring, "We won't allow one dictator to determine everything." Democratic governors in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Louisiana have faced a mix of legislation and lawsuits aiming to curtail their power.
Evers had been slowly easing restrictions on closed businesses in Wisconsin as the percentage of new cases dropped and other metrics that were a part of his reopening plan were met.
Evers released a statement Thursday morning, saying the court's decision puts health and safety of Wisconsinites at risk.
"Up until now, Wisconsin was in a pretty good place in our battle against COVID-19. We had reached almost all our gating criteria. We had opened up 14,000 small businesses across the state, putting 90,000 folks back to work, and that was because of the good work of Wisconsinites across our state who banded together, stayed home, and stayed safe," said Gov. Evers. "Despite that good work, Republican legislators have convinced 4 justices to throw our state into chaos.
Evers says his top priority will continue to be protecting his state's residents.
"We cannot let today's ruling undo all the work we have done and all the sacrifices Wisconsinites have made over these past few months. We need everyone to continue doing their part to keep our families, our neighbors, and our communities safe by continuing to stay safer at home, practice social distancing, and limit travel, because folks, deadly viruses don't wait around for politicians and bureaucrats to settle their differences or promulgate rules," he said.
Earlier this week, Evers allowed all nonessential retail businesses to allow up to five customers in a store at one time. However, bars and restaurants had been limited to offering only carry-out or delivery services.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin swiftly posted the news on its website, telling members, "You can OPEN IMMEDIATELY!"
As of Wednesday, there were nearly 10,100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and 421 deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services.
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