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Evers: Repealing mask mandate like eliminating speed limits

January 29, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this April 7, 2020 file photo, voters masked against coronavirus line up for Wisconsin's primary election in Milwaukee. The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly has backed off on voting to repeal Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate. The retreat Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, came in the face of broad criticism from the state’s health, school and business leaders and out concern the move would jeopardize more than $49 million in federal food assistance. (AP Photo/Morry Gash File)
FILE - In this April 7, 2020 file photo, voters masked against coronavirus line up for Wisconsin's primary election in Milwaukee. The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly has backed off on voting to repeal Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate. The retreat Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, came in the face of broad criticism from the state’s health, school and business leaders and out concern the move would jeopardize more than $49 million in federal food assistance. (AP Photo/Morry Gash File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tony Evers lashed out Friday at rival Republicans who tried to repeal his statewide mask mandate, saying killing the order would be a ridiculous move comparable to abolishing speed limits.

Republican leaders say they want to kill the mandate not because they don’t believe masks work in the fight against the coronavirus but because Evers is trampling their constituents’ personal liberties.

Evers told reporters during a conference call Friday that Republicans were trying trying to throw out one of the only tools he has left to mitigate COVID-19′s spread. GOP lawmakers and conservative groups last year convinced the state Supreme Court to kill Evers’ stay-at-home order and the limits he placed on the size of indoor gatherings.

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“It is important for people to remember that masks save lives,” the governor said. “It is not about individual liberty, as others would say. If some of those arguments would be in place, I would expect the Assembly and the Senate to be sending me legislation getting rid of speed limits on our highways so that liberties to go 100 mph aren’t constrained. Obviously that’s ridiculous, and getting rid of this mask mandate falls within that category.”

Senate Republicans voted Tuesday to end the governor’s health emergency declaration, which would kill the mask mandate. Assembly Republicans had been poised to follow suit Thursday but delayed a vote after learning that ending the emergency declaration would cost the state $49 million in federal food assistance.

The Senate tried to work around that by amending a COVID-19 relief bill to allow Evers to declare health emergencies only for the purpose of retaining federal aid. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos decided he needed more time to study the ramifications and put off a vote until next week.

The Senate added language to the broader COVID-19 relief bill to preserve federal aid on Thursday then passed it to the Assembly. Approval in that chamber would send the bill to Evers for his signature. The governor has been trying to negotiate a relief package with Republicans for months, but this version contains provisions he doesn’t support, including prohibiting employers from mandating that workers get vaccinated and legislative oversight of federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

Other Democrats have predicted the governor will veto the package, but Evers wouldn’t commit Friday saying he thinks the legislation is still a work in progress.

“I haven’t seen the final (bill) so I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to sign or not sign and why I won’t sign it,” he said.

State health officials reported 1,567 new COVID-19 cases Friday, continuing a downward trend that began in early January. The state has now seen 539,915 cases. Forty-nine more people died, bringing the death toll to 5,860.

The number of active cases in the state stood at 20,057. Wisconsin has a population of about 5.8 million people. Nearly 477,000 people had received at least one shot of vaccine as of Tuesday, the state’s most recent tally.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1