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Republican-led Wisconsin legislature sues to reopen state from stay-at-home order

Wisconsin's Republican-led legislature filed a lawsuit in an attempt to reopen the state and block the extension of a stay-at-home order issued by state health officials to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Provided Photo/Education Images/Universal Images Group Editorial/Getty Images/FILE via CNN)

(CNN) — Wisconsin’s Republican-led legislature filed a lawsuit Tuesday in an attempt to reopen the state and block the extension of a stay-at-home order issued by state health officials to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The lawsuit was filed against Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm and other health officials, who recently extended the state’s “Safer at Home” emergency order until May 26, but loosened some restrictions on certain businesses.

In the complaint, lawmakers argue that if this order remains in effect, “many Wisconsinites will have lost their jobs, and many companies will have gone under, to say nothing of the Order’s countless other downstream societal effects. Our State will be in shambles.”

The move comes as some protests against stay-at-home orders, backed by conservative groups, have sprung up at state capitols and at least three southern states are moving to reopen parts of their economies. President Donald Trump has also been eager to get Americans back to work and issued new guidelines last week to gradually restart the economy.

Wisconsin GOP lawmakers argued in their lawsuit that Palm’s order “irreparably harmed the Legislature by depriving it” of exercising its oversight duties.

They also argue that the order is “unlawful,” exceeds the department’s authority, and is “arbitrary and capricious” because the state agency “failed to provide any reasoned basis for discriminating between ‘essential’ and ‘nonessential’ businesses.”

The lawsuit filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court seeks a temporary injunction against the order and a six-day stay so that a new emergency rule can be drawn up that’s “consistent with Wisconsin law.”

“DHS could (and should) immediately start working with the Legislature to devise and issue a lawful emergency rule, while the Legislature also pursues legislation that will help Wisconsin comprehensively respond to this pandemic in a way that balances the need to protect public health with the necessity of opening Wisconsin as soon as possible,” the lawmakers argued.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Twitter Tuesday slammed the lawsuit as “focused entirely on how to get legislative Republicans more power” and “exploiting a global pandemic to further their attempts to undermine the will of the people.”

“Apparently, instead of having us act quickly and decisively to respond to a crisis, Republicans would rather have us jump through hoop after hoop and ask for their permission to save lives. Folks, we don’t have time. COVID-19 will not wait,” Evers wrote.

After filing their lawsuit, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald claimed Tuesday that there’s “immense frustration regarding the extension” of the order and that Evers “has denied the people a voice through this unprecedented administrative overreach.”

“Unfortunately, that leaves the legislature no choice but to ask the Supreme Court to rein in this obvious abuse of power,” they said in a joint statement.

“Wisconsinites deserve certainty, transparency, and a plan to end the constant stream of executive orders that are eroding both the economy and their liberty even as the state is clearly seeing a decline in COVID infections.”

Wisconsin Democrats argued that the health crisis “will only get worse if we end Safer at Home before it’s safe to.”

“But Republican leadership would rather see more Wisconsinites get sick and die than listen to what the experts say is the best path forward,” the Wisconsin Democratic Party said on Twitter.

In late March, Evers directed Palm to issue a stay-at-home order, closing many businesses across the state until April 24. Last week, again at Evers’ direction, Palm extended the order until May 26, but eased restrictions for certain nonessential businesses.

“These steps will help us reduce the risk of a second wave of the virus,” Palm said in her announcement of the extension. “If we open up too soon, we risk overwhelming our hospitals and requiring more drastic physical distancing measures again.”

Wisconsin golf courses will be allowed to open again, and public libraries and arts and crafts stores may offer curbside pickup. The state’s public and private K-12 schools, however, will remain closed for the rest of the school year.

On Monday, Evers unveiled his plan to reopen his state’s economy in phases, which includes more testing, expanded contact tracing, and a “downward trajectory” of Covid-19 cases in a two-week period.

As of Wednesday, Wisconsin had over 4,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 244 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tally of cases in the United States.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits in Wisconsin was over 313,000 between March 15 and April 6, according to the Department of Workforce Development.