Supreme Court Decision Leaves Uncertainty for Local Health Orders

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When the Supreme Court decision in Wisconsin Legislature v. Palm came down Wednesday night, the Evers’ administration said it became clear that the state was thrown into chaos.  Evers said the state is going to be dealing with a pandemic with a patchwork application of local ordinances.  On Thursday several counties and municipalities put local orders in place. Today it seems unclear if local governmental entities have the authority to do that.

Kenosha News posted a story last evening saying Kenosha County withdrew its local action which would have continued the provisions of the Safer-at-Home Order. The story says, “Kenosha County Corporation Counsel Joseph Cardamone said guidance received from the Wisconsin Counties Association’s legal arm late today suggested that the provision struck down by the State Supreme Court also applied to local health officers, the county announced.” Statement from Kenosha County.

The Wisconsin Counties Association COVID-19 website states, “While Wis. Stat. § 252.03 provides a local health officer with broad regulatory authority, enforcement of local health orders proceeds under the same statute relating to enforcement of statewide orders like Safer at Home – Wis. Stat. § 252.25. This is the same statute that the Court cited in its decision as problematic in terms of enforcement of the Safer at Home Order. As a result, it is unclear whether a local health order would, in the Court’s view, suffer from the same deficiencies that caused the Court to invalidate the Safer at Home Order.”

The League of Wisconsin Municipalities website says, “In the absence of a county or local health department order, does a municipality have authority to impose restrictions similar to Safer at Home, such as prohibiting public gatherings of a certain size and closing businesses? The answer is unclear.”