Health ordinance set for June vote
Marathon County Corporation Counsel Scott Corbett on Thursday told supervisors they will be asked to vote in June on an ordinance that would put the county health officer’s ability to deal with COVID-19 and other outbreaks of disease on a solid legal footing in the wake of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling which voided Safer at Home rules. Corbett said the proposed ordinance, which will be reviewed by the county’s Board of Health and Health and Human Services Committee, will give the county health officer powers to respond to epidemics at various levels of severity.
At a first level, he said, the county health officer, who is currently Joan Theuer, will be able to quarantine sick and contagious individuals. He said this was not unlike the health officer shutting down a single restaurant for not meeting health department regulations.
“We don’t shut down every restaurant because one business has an issue,” he said.
Corbett said the ordinance would give the health officer power to impose further sanctions as the epidemic spreads and is a greater danger.
“The broadest level would be when we have a huge outbreak that is county-wide where the hospitals are unable to handle the surge,” he said.
Corbett said the ordinance will answer the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s objection to Andrea Palm, acting Department of Health Services secretary, who imposed Safer at Home orders without emergency rules approved by the state legislature.
Corbett said county board support was key to empowering the county health officers following the state high court decision.
“Unlike what happened in the State Capitol, we are going to do this together,” Corbertt said. “This will not be just one arm of the government acting. It will be passed by the entire board.”
Corbett said county boards across the state withdrew their own Safer at Home orders after the idea that they lacked enforcement power “percolated” in the thinking of various county leaders.
The corporation counsel said Marathon County responded cautiously to the Supreme Court decision and issued a COVID-19 “order” but one that deliberately lacked criminal or civil penalties to demand enforcement. He noted that Dane and Milwaukee counties still had their own COVID-19 orders in effect. In related news:
_ County board chairman Kurt Gibbs told supervisors that $375 billion within a $3 trillion HEROES federal stimulus package approved by the House of Representatives was designated to go to cities and counties to make up for lost revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said that the county’s 3,069 counties have lost an estimated $144 billion in revenue over the past year.
Gibbs said that the U.S. Senate has not taken up the HEROES Act but may adopt a different compromise package with the House of Representatives. He said the National Counties Association (NACO) supports the HEROES Act.
Gibbs sits on the NACO board of directors.
_ Administrator Lance Leonhard told supervisors the county has erected COVID-19 protective barriers in the courthouse and was moving towards having more employees wear masks.
He said many court proceedings now happen as part of ZOOM virtual conferences.
Leonhard said the county has opened its parks but not playground equipment. The county, however, won’t barricade the play equipment with snow fence or police caution tape. He said county ballfields are currently closed.