Wisconsin governor warns of 'massive confusion' after ruling

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers warned Thursday of "massive confusion" after the the state Supreme Court tossed out the Democrat's stay-at-home order and Republicans said they may leave it up to local governments to enact their own unique rules for combating the coronavirus pandemic.

The court's order threw communities into chaos, with some bars opening immediately while local leaders in other areas moved to keep strict restrictions in place to prevent further spread of the virus.

If Wisconsin is to have a statewide plan, Evers will have to work with the same Republicans whose lawsuit resulted in Wednesday's Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling. After a Thursday meeting with Evers, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said GOP lawmakers and the governor may not be able to reach agreement and that a statewide policy might not be needed.

"Apparently they believe that different rules are OK," Evers said of Republicans. "I can't imagine another state that is in this predicament. Mile by mile there may be different rules across the state of Wisconsin."

Vos downplayed the concern, saying "we don't necessarily need a statewide approach."

"We already know that local health departments have the ability to utilize their power, which is already there to deal with those situations if they feel it's unsafe," Vos said.

Wisconsin is just one of several states where governors have run into increasing resistance from Republican legislators over coronavirus restrictions. Democratic governors in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Louisiana have faced a mix of legislation and lawsuits aiming to curtail their power. And in Kansas on Wednesday, Republicans resisted the Democratic governor's request to extend a disaster declaration.

It's not clear whether any of those states are about to see as thorough a move as in Wisconsin, where the state's powerful Republican legislative leaders long been able to count on help from the conservative-dominated state Supreme Court.

Vos said he had faith that the "vast majority" of Wisconsin businesses would act responsibly and open with safety precautions, such as ensuring customers keep at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from each other.

That wasn't the case at some bars Wednesday night. Nick's Bar in Platteville, in far southwest Wisconsin, posted a 30-second video that showed the bar teeming with people without masks as they drank, talked and bobbed their heads to music. Bars in Appleton and Kaukauna in northeast Wisconsin also opened and were packed with people.

The party may be short-lived in Appleton. City officials signed an order that took effect at 8 a.m. Thursday continuing the state's "safer at home" order. Other communities were taking similar steps, including Racine, Kenosha County and Brown County, home to Green Bay.

In Dane County, home to the capital of Madison, officials quickly imposed a mandate incorporating most of the statewide order until May 26. Milwaukee health officials said a stay-at-home order they enacted in late March remains in effect and does not have an end date.

Tom Diehl, president of the Association of Wisconsin Tourism Attractions, runs the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory and water ski show in Lake Delton in Sauk County, one of the state's tourist destinations.

He plans next week to open the exploratory, an indoor attraction featuring some 175 interactive exhibits like giant levers and a mock-up of a Russian space station capsule. Diehl said he will take precautions such as having hand sanitizer available and asking visitors to keep their distance from each other.

"If Home Depot, Walmart and Costco can do it safely, we can do it safely as well," he said.

Not everyone was moving quickly to reopen.

Wisconsin Restaurant Association Chairwoman Joanne Platzkill, co-owner of Za 51 Pizzeria and Draganetti's Ristorante in Altoona in Eau Claire County, said she will continue offering only takeout for now. It will take time to bring back laid-off workers, rearrange seating to accommodate social distancing guidelines and order more food. Outdoor seating may open next week at 25% capacity, she said.

"The light switch went off when the (stay-at-home) order was in place and we can't flip it back on easily," she said. "Honestly, I don't think it will ever be the same as it was. "

Wisconsin tribes will keep their casinos closed at least through May 26, Shannon Hosley, president of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans and the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, said.

The Wisconsin court ruling drew praise from President Donald Trump, who called it a "win" in a Twitter post on Thursday and added: "Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open. The people want to get on with their lives. The place is bustling!"

Evers had been slowly easing restrictions on closed businesses as the percentage of new cases dropped and other metrics that were a part of his reopening plan were met. As of Thursday, there were more than 11,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and 434 deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Associated Press writers Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee, Doug Glass in Minneapolis and David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.

Owner Michael Mattson toasts the opening of the Friends and Neighbors bar Wednesday in Appleton, Wisconsin, following the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision to strike down Gov. Tony Evers' stay-at-home restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. Associated Press
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