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Wisconsin Republicans repeal state mask mandate, emergency order

A resolution passed Thursday by Wisconsin's Republican-controlled State Assembly repealed the state's mask mandate and public health emergency aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

But just over an hour later, Gov. Tony EversTony EversBiden rescinds Trump-approved Medicaid work requirements in Michigan, Wisconsin Wisconsin governor declares state of emergency over wildfires Wisconsin seeks over 0,000 in legal fees incurred from GOP election lawsuits MORE (D) issued a new emergency order and mandate, citing the new threat posed by "more contagious strains of the virus," including the B.1.17 variant, which has been found in Wisconsin and 31 other states.

The new mask mandate will run through March 20, and the emergency order will be effective for 60 days.

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"Every step of the way, our statewide strategies to contain this virus and prevent the spread have been met with lawsuits, political rhetoric and obstruction. Unfortunately, that happened again today," Evers said in a video message announcing the new order. 

"If the Legislature keeps playing politics and we don't keep wearing masks, we're going to see more preventable deaths, and it's going to take even longer to get our state and our economy back on track," Evers said. 

The move by Evers sets up a new clash with state Republicans, who voted to repeal the mask mandate because they said Evers overstepped his authority.

The vote would have made Wisconsin one of only 10 states without a mask requirement. 

In a joint statement after the vote, Wisconsin state House Speaker Robin Vos (R) and state Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R) said Evers "has abused his limited authority for far too long by repeatedly issuing unlawful orders beyond his 60-day emergency powers. The Assembly and Senate voted to end the executive overreach and restore our constituents’ voice in the legislative process." 

Vos said he supports mask requirements in certain "appropriate" areas like hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and public schools, but not statewide.

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"The idea that we are going to say somebody has to wear a mask inside a private business if the private business doesn't want to require it, I don't support that," Vos said in a news conference prior to the vote. 

"We are not anti-mask. It is about the governor exerting unlawful powers that he does not have," Vos said.

Vos and other Republicans urged Evers to use the rulemaking process, which requires the approval of a GOP-controlled committee.

The vote in the State Assembly came a week after the state's Senate passed a similar measure. But the vote in the lower chamber was delayed, after lawmakers learned the move could cost state residents tens of millions of dollars in food assistance.

As a workaround, the Assembly on Thursday passed a separate bill that contains a provision designed to ensure the state doesn’t lose the funding. Federal law requires there to be a pandemic health emergency in place to receive the money.

The mask mandate repealed by Republicans had been in place since August. 

Evers has lost other battles to Republicans during the pandemic. Last year, the state Supreme Court ended his stay-at-home order, and an appeals court ruled limits on indoor dining were not enforceable. 

—Updated Friday at 5:57 p.m.