Tavern League of Wisconsin fights limits on indoor gatherings
November 3, 2020
It’s no secret that Wisconsin is one of the states leading the country in COVID-19 cases. Only a few counties on the state’s western border with Minnesota aren’t in the red zone. State Fair Park in West Allis opened in mid-October for its first 50 patients, to serve as an alternate-care facility for recovering and less acutely ill COVID-19 patients.
In response to the wave of new COVID-19 cases, Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm, along with Democratic Governor Tony Evers, announced a capacity-limit order on October 6. The order limits all public indoor gatherings to a quarter of capacity.
“This crisis is urgent,” Evers said via a written statement. “Wisconsinites, stay home. Limit travel and going to gatherings, and please wear a face covering whenever you do have to go out.”
The Tavern League of Wisconsin, a lobbying group, responded to this capacity-limit order with dismay—and a lawsuit filed on October 8 in Sawyer County. The suit sought a temporary restraining order and injunction to stop the capacity-limit order, stating that to many of the member businesses, the order was a “de facto closure.” The judge temporarily blocked the governor’s order in response to the lawsuit.
The Legislature also responded. On Monday, October 13, its Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) voted to require DHS to promulgate an emergency rule, and set a 30-day deadline for DHS compliance. As it turned out, that deadline was just three days before the emergency order was set to expire.
A few hours before the lawsuit was announced, Evers had already responded. “There’s no reason to have a rule prepared because we have an emergency order that is in place in the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. He criticized the Republican-controlled Legislature on October 14 for failing to meet for the past six months to address the pandemic crisis in the state and for not responding to a three-page letter he’d sent the body members October 13 requesting a clear plan to help reduce the pandemic’s spread.
“Time and again we’ve heard that Republican legislators just want a seat at the table,” Evers stated. “…I’ve…yet to hear any ideas, plans or solutions.”
On October 14, a Sawyer County judge denied the Tavern League’s request to block Evers’ indoor-capacity order. A similar request made in Barron County was also denied.
“I find that there’s no showing of irreparable harm,” the Hon. James Babler, the Barron County judge, stated. “If I had a showing for the last 40 days that businesses were going out because they were complying with the order, that would be a showing of irreparable harm. I merely have the theoretical issue that if they were to comply, they would suffer harm.”
For an industry that’s an important player in Wisconsin’s economy, the denials were a blow.
“We are obviously disappointed at the ruling,” Tavern League President Chris Marsicano said. He added that the ruling will have “catastrophic effects” on Wisconsin’s small businesses.
As it now sits, the emergency capacity-limits order will be in effect until November 6.