Texas, Wisconsin Supreme Court issue major rulings to reopen business, court activity, while Montgomery County’s Chinese Coronavirus curve remains flat (as it has all along)

Texas, Wisconsin Supreme Court issue major rulings to reopen business, court activity, while Montgomery County’s Chinese Coronavirus curve remains flat (as it has all along)

Image: Some bars opened immediately and were packed with customers as a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling Wednesday tossed Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order. The ruling came both on Constitutional and statutory grounds.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Madison, Wisconsin, Austin, and Conroe, May 15 – The Chinese Coronavirus curve has remained flat in Montgomery County, Texas, largely because private individuals and businesses engaged in responsible hygienic and social distancing practices on a voluntary basis. While government interference at the hands of increasingly unpopular Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough has begun to wane, the Montgomery County government has failed to take any actions to reduce government spending or operations, even for unnecessary departments such as the Convention Center (which lies empty with a full bevy of employees). The County government failed to reduce employee costs or take any salary reductions, while focusing instead on flattening the local economy.

Montgomery County presently has 483 active Wuhan virus cases, 272 full recoveries, and, tragically, 18 fatalities. The County government has stopped disclosing the number of economic depression suicide deaths for fear of citizen criticism, according to multiple sources close to the County Judge’s office.

Map showing concentration of Chinese Coronavirus cases (redder means more dense) by zip codes in Montgomery County. Source: Montgomery County Government.

Texas Supreme Court reopens eviction proceedings, garnishments

The Texas Supreme Court issued an order yesterday, May 14, 2020, that eviction proceedings may begin to move forward, one among two emergency orders the Court issued. One order permits residential-evictions to proceed, while the other addresses garnishment in consumer-debt collections.

In two emergency orders prompted by pandemic considerations, the Texas Supreme Court has ordered:

(1) that residential-eviction proceedings may resume May 19 and deadlines are no longer postponed and, beginning May 26, warnings may be posted and possession writs may be executed. For eviction proceedings filed from March 27 through July 25 a sworn petition required by Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 510.3(a)(2) establishing eviction grounds must state that the premises are not subject to the evictions moratorium imposed by the federal CARES Act section 4024. Section 4024 provides a temporary moratorium on eviction filings and other protections for tenants in certain rental properties with federal assistance or federally related financing. The Court’s order, its 15th emergency order, is effective immediately and expires July 25 unless the chief justice extends it.

(2) that in any action to collect consumer debt as defined by Texas Finance Code Section 392.001(2), issuance and service of garnishment writs and turnover orders may resume. But an individual judgment debtor or receiver shall be entitled, upon request, to a hearing (in person or remotely, as local circumstances permit) within two business days of the court’s receipt of the request to determine what money might be attributable to a CARES Act stimulus payment and courts and appointed receivers must release or refund that money affected by a garnishment or turnover order. In addition, the order specifies that receivers and judgment creditors shall send an additional notice to the judgment debtor that an objection to a court stay on any stimulus payment can be heard on an “expedited basis.”

This order, the Supreme Court’s 16th during the COVID-19 response, expires August 12, 2020, unless extended by the chief justice.

Wisconsin governor warns of ‘massive confusion’ after ruling by Wisconsin Supreme Court that stay-at-home order violates Constitution and Wisconsin law

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 the two sides 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.”

Vos downplayed the concern.

“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 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 will see as thorough a move as in Wisconsin, where Republican legislative leaders have 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 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 it teeming with people without masks. Bars in Appleton and Kaukauna in northeast Wisconsin, and others across the state, also were packed.

The party may be short-lived in Appleton, where an order took effect at 8 a.m. Thursday continuing the state’s “safer at home” order. Other communities were taking similar steps, including Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha County and Brown County, home to Green Bay.

Evers’ legal counsel Ryan Nilsestuen said the court’s order made it unclear whether the state health secretary could quickly respond to future health emergencies, including a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“The court didn’t provide any clarity or guidance on how to move forward,” he said, calling that “very problematic.”

Still, some heralded the ruling as the beginning of a return to normalcy.

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.

Next week, he plans to open an indoor attraction featuring some 175 interactive exhibits, including a mock-up of a Russian space station capsule. Diehl said he will have hand sanitizer available and ask 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.

Steven Whitehurst, 29, of Waukesha, a Milwaukee suburb, went to a sit-down restaurant Thursday for the first time in two months.

“It was super surreal, I won’t lie,” he said. “It didn’t feel real or right, but it also felt very comfortable.”

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.

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 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 announced later Thursday that his administration had begun working toward a new administrative rule for managing the coronavirus crisis, a process he had warned could take weeks and might lead nowhere. A notice made clear the new rule would mirror much of Evers’ earlier recommendations.

As of Thursday, Wisconsin had more than 11,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 434 deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services.

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