Governor Tony Evers reversed course again and issued an executive order and an emergency order mandating a statewide face mask requirement even though he previously doubted he had the power to do so.

“We’ve said all along that we’re going to let science and public health experts be our guide in responding to this pandemic, and we know that masks and face coverings will save lives,” Evers said in a press release Thursday. “While I know emotions are high when it comes to wearing face coverings in public, my job as governor is to put people first and to do what’s best for the people of our state, so that’s what I am going to do.”

Evers claimed his decision was based on data showing an increase in the percentage of positive test results for the Coronavirus.

“The average number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 has drastically increased throughout July, with an average of 556 new cases each day between July 1-7, an average of 764 new cases each day between July 8-14 (a 37% increase from the previous week), an average of 890 new cases each day between July 15-21 (a 16% increase from the previous week), and an average of 938 new cases each day between July 22-26 (a 5% increase from the previous week),” the Evers press release stated.

However, recent revelations about data in Dane County and Waukesha County have called into question whether counties are underreporting negative tests results, causing the data analysis by the state’s Department of Health Services to be in error.

Evers’ mask mandate is for Wisconsin residents five years of age and older. Failure to wear the mask may result in a $200 fine.

“You need to wear a face covering whenever you are indoors or in an enclosed space, other than a private residence, and other people are present in the same room or space,” said an Evers Administration Frequently Asked Questions. “For example, you must wear a mask while you are shopping in a store or using a taxi.”

The statewide mask mandate was immediately met with skepticism by Rick Esenberg, President of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). Esenberg’s conservative public interest law firm successfully sued to prevent Evers from extending his first Coronavirus emergency order without receiving the consent of the legislature through the agency rule-making process.

“Wearing a mask is courteous and smart,” Esenberg said in a statement Thursday. “But the presence of a pandemic does not negate the rule of law. Governor Evers, quite simply, lacks the legal authority to declare a second public health emergency and require every citizen to wear a mask.”

The legality of Evers’ order was also questioned right away by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

“It’s disappointing that yet again Governor Evers has chosen to not communicate or work with the legislature,” Vos said in a statement Thursday. “There are certainly constitutional questions here; I would expect legal challenges from citizen groups.”

Vos, while acknowledging the severity of the pandemic, questioned also whether a statewide mask mandate was necessary.

“Local governments have been responding appropriately and increasing precautionary measures as needed,” Vos said. “But Wisconsin shouldn’t have a one-size-fits-all mandate. It doesn’t build public support when there are questions surrounding the metrics and the constitutionality of this mandate.”

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) agreed with Vos that there may be a legal challenge and also said the legislature may take action. A joint resolution by the state legislature can overturn the emergency order by Evers.

“I certainly think the way that the governor has written this order may have opened him up to legal challenges,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m also gauging the interest of my caucus when it comes to voting down the order – the Legislature should be reconvening to look at this.”

A legal challenge to Evers’ emergency order may be more difficult this time. The order takes effect beginning Saturday, the same day liberal Justice-elect Jill Karofsky replaces conservative Justice Dan Kelly on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The conservative majority will be 4-3 instead of 5-2 with Justice Brian Hagedorn as a possible swing vote on the case.

Hence, the possibility of the legislature reconvening to dispense with the statewide mask mandate themselves.

Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), who has been questioning the data being reported by DHS, called for Vos and Fitzgerald to bring legislators back into session to overturn Evers’ emergency order.

“I am calling on Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to immediately call the Legislature back into session to pass a joint resolution ending Governor Evers’ new illegal and unnecessary emergency declaration,” Nass said in a statement Thursday. “The Legislature is empowered to end any emergency declaration issued by a Governor through the simple passage of a joint resolution that doesn’t require the Governor’s approval.”

Nass also questioned whether the emergency order is a political stunt to help Democrats in the November election.

“Governor Evers actions today are nothing more than a political stunt to create a partisan fight with the Legislature,” Nass said. “This is not about improving public health. Today’s emergency declaration is all about the November election and the weak performance of Democrats in this state.”

State Rep. Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago) issued perhaps the most extreme (by his own description) reaction from a legislator to Evers’ emergency order, a statement titled, “Dictator Evers’ Mask Decree.”

Wearing a mask is a personal choice. It is simply not the government’s role to tell you to wear a piece of fabric.

Businesses that wish to require masks at their establishments are free do to so on their private property.

Furthermore, there is no empirical evidence that cloth masks, which are what the majority of people are wearing, are actually having a positive impact.

The timing of this mandate is highly suspect. In this purely political move Gov. Evers has waited to enforce his mandate until the day after a conservative justice leaves the bench of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Evers’ order is not just being questioned by the legislature as local officials grapple with how to enforce the mask mandate. Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow said, “the unenforcability of the order undermines existing laws, and overreach from the state erodes public trust in the government.”

“Today, our 911 dispatch center, Sheriff’s Department and other Waukesha County departments and divisions are already receiving calls from residents concerned about this order, “Farrow said. “{A}nd we expect that to intensify when it goes into effect on Saturday and individuals begin to report others to law enforcement.”

Farrow is asking the public not to call 911 to report individuals violating the mask order.

Washington County Executive Josh Schoemann is concerned that the mask mandate is a “Trojan horse,” and the real concern is the emergency order.

“Another public health emergency gives the governor all the tools he needs to close schools, mandate virtual learning, issue another safer-at-home order or worse,” Schoemann said Thursday. “Governor Evers says in his public health emergency that high risk levels of COVID-19 outbreaks will prevent the full reopening of school. Either the governor needs to commit to ensuring schools have the resources to fully reopen in September or the legislature needs to immediately act.”