Fact check: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers isn't seeking additional 9-month shutdown
Claim: Wisconsin governor sought to extend shutdown by 9 months
Wisconsin’s coronavirus response has been in a state of flux since the state Supreme Court threw out Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order May 13.
Absent statewide rules, counties implemented a patchwork of policies, some of which were quickly dropped. Other local orders remain, but expire on different dates. Evers’ administration proposed new rules, only to withdraw them after Republican blowback.
In the middle of this uncertainty, a Facebook post claiming to detail Evers’ plan spread among conservatives and ended up on the Republican Party of Kenosha County’s page.
“HEADS UP WISCONSIN!! This is no joke!,” the post reads. “Evers is proposing a new plan, a 150 day shutdown of the state (5 MONTHS!) followed by a 120 day extension.”
It goes on to ask readers to call 10 members of a key legislative committee to voice their outrage, suggesting the Evers order included forced masks, forced testing, forced quarantines and even forced vaccinations. (Never mind that no vaccination exists.)
But that is not at all what the administration proposed.
Let’s take a look.
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When asked for evidence to back up the Facebook post, the Republican Party of Kenosha County said it reposted the message from someone else and pointed to the Evers administration’s proposed rules.
The message, which urges people to copy and paste it to share, has been shared more than 600 times based on the Kenosha County GOP post alone. It was also posted to the Recall Tony Evers Facebook group and shared by the La Crosse Tea Party.
It’s unclear where the post originated.
On May 14, Evers approved what’s called a statement of scope put together by the state Department of Health Services. The document is the first step in the rule-making process that Evers’ administration must operate under after the Supreme Court ruling.
A Republican-led committee could veto the proposed rules, which Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, asked Evers to withdraw, saying it could not win support.
On May 18, the governor said the proposal would be his last attempt at a statewide rule to contain the virus.
The DHS’ statement of scope said the agency would implement temporary measures to limit gatherings, enforce social distancing and ensure businesses protect employees and customers from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The proposal also promised to establish a phased approach to reopening the state’s economy.
All in all, the DHS’s statement of scope largely replicated the plan — which Evers had dubbed the “Badger Bounce Back” — that was struck down by the state Supreme Court. DHS officials admitted as much, writing that “the proposed emergency rule may re-articulate some or all the parameters specified in Badger Bounce Back.”
“The proposed rule will implement measures to reduce and slow the rate of infection of COVID-19, to reduce strain on the health care system, to mitigate economic hardship, and to save lives,” the document states.
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Nothing in the statement of scope suggests state officials planned to shut down the state for 150 more days, plus an extension. Nor did the previous order that it’s based on.
(And remember, the Evers order challenged by the GOP was 13 days away from expiring when the Supreme Court ruled.)
The Evers administration’s Badger Bounce Back plan provided for a phased reopening of the economy as the state achieved certain public health criteria. Among them: increased testing and contact tracing, a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percentage for 14 days and a decline in influenzalike illnesses.
The state had met five of six benchmarks on May 12, a day before the court’s ruling came down.
Wisconsin state statutes do specify that emergency rules can remain in effect for only 150 days, unless extended by no more than 120 days. But that should not be confused with DHS’s statement of scope, which was done under the emergency rules framework but did not establish a set time for reopening.
Moreover, a phased reopening based on public health is hardly a complete shutdown, as the Facebook post implies.
When asked about the post during a May 18 media call, the governor’s response was brief.
“That’d be a lie,” Evers said.
Our ruling: False
We rate this claim FALSE based on our research. At no time did the Evers administration suggest this. The Supreme Court ruling meant Evers had to turn to the emergency rule-making process through the Legislature. That process includes limits and timetables for any such rule.
The Facebook post wrongly conflates that timetable with the governor’s plan to reopen the state. As such, it is entirely incorrect. What’s more, the post encourages people to spread misinformation.
Our fact-check sources
- With 144 new COVID cases, Wisconsin reports lowest percent positive rate for new tests this month, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 18, 2020.
- Statement of scope approval, Gov. Tony Evers, May 14, 2020.
- Tony Evers' proposal to replace stay-at-home order rejected by GOP lawmaker with veto power, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 15, 2020.
- Statement of scope, Department of Health Services, accessed May 19, 2020.
- Top GOP lawmakers now want to leave virus plan in the hands of local officials, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 14, 2020.
- Emergency order 31: Badger Bounce Back, accessed May 19, 2020.
- Just 4% of new coronavirus tests in Wisconsin are positive as state meets five of six reopening goals, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 12, 2020.
- Wisconsin DHS media briefing on COVID-19, May 18, 2020.
- Wisconsin Statute 227.24, accessed May 19, 2020.
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