MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers and his administration have taken the reins of extraordinary power in the name of combatting the COVID-19 outbreak.
While the crisis warrants rapid response to protect the public, the governor’s broad use of his emergency authority is raising concerns by lawmakers and defenders of civil liberties.
To a growing number of concerned citizens, the administration has created a kind of Nanny State on steroids.
Among the latest concerns, the governor’s decision to close 40 state parks, forests and recreational trails. Evers said he was doing so “out of an abundance of caution to protect public health and safety and help flatten the curve.” That’s been a common refrain from federal, state and local governments during the pandemic.
The governor also cited “unprecedented crowds, litter,” and vandalism for his decisions.
Lawmakers such as Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) aren’t buying it.
“I had hoped the leadership of the DNR would be able to maintain some semblance of reason and continue to operate our state parks based on facts, not fear,” Nass wrote in an email to Sean Kennedy, legislative liaison at the state Department of Natural Resources. “To close 40 state parks based on litter and vandalism is outright ridiculous and raises serious questions regarding the decision-making capabilities of the leadership of your agency.”
As Nass points out, state employees are still being paid and have “yet to face the same economic consequences of Governor Evers’ orders” as many of the senators’ constituents are.
“Picking up the garbage and increasing observation of state parks to reduce vandalism are all common sense steps that could easily be taken by state employees to avoid these closures, unless there is some other undisclosed agenda behind this decision,” Nass wrote.
“Further, to suggest that these state parks must close now ‘out of an abundance of caution’ over Covid-19 intentionally ignores the real data released every day by (the Department of Health Services). DHS officials said three times last week that the ‘curve’ in Wisconsin was flattening and this was done while these 40 state parks were open.”
Zach Madden, another DNR official, responded to Nass’ concerns by insisting that the DNR understands the “public’s need to enjoy the benefits of nature during the COVID-19 pandemic,” but …
“Warmer weather led to a drastic increase in visitors to state parks, posing a range of challenges relating to social distancing,” Madden wrote. “Currently, ensuring public safety supersedes continuing operations at certain locations.”
Nass and others say such explanations don’t justify the superseding of so many civil liberties.
“I strongly urge the department to reverse course and urge the Governor to rescind this needless order,” Nass wrote.