Eau Claire City Attorney dispels rumors of proposed health ordinance

The ordinance has led to the creation of rumors and spread of misinformation
Published: Sep. 21, 2020 at 9:20 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Eau Claire City Attorney Steve Nick explains that a proposed health ordinance is similar to how firefighters respond to fires. .

“We respond immediately to fires but we also take steps to prevent fires so if people don’t have an operating smoke alarm they could get a citation and same here,” Nick says.

The Eau Claire City Council will introduce a health ordinance on Tuesday that would lead to additional legislative oversight for health orders issued by the health department.

The ordinance has led to confusion, protests and the spread of misinformation online with rumors including that the ordinance would force people from their homes, the creation of “Quarantine Camps” and more. Nick says none of this is true.

“It is an ordinance that allows the city to act promptly in times of public health emergencies,” Nick says. “It is not adding any additional authority to the legislative process but it is allowing legislative oversight.”

Nick says there is nothing in the ordinance that would allow the health department to remove a person from his or her home.

Some protestors have also expressed concern that the ordinance would allow a health director to have unchecked power, to which Nick says it would actually do the opposite.

“It does not give health officers any new power and very clearly adds in City Council as a necessary role to continue enforcing orders,” Nick says.

Nick says the ordinance also does not violate constitutional rights, another concern commonly expressed by protesters.

“Even during a pandemic we have personal liberties we know that, we took that very seriously when drafting this ordinance and that is why legislative oversight is a core element,” Nick says. “We are just trying to keep ourselves safe and our communities safe and it in no way infringes on constitutional freedoms in the process.”

With the Safer at Home order overturned by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Nick says an ordinance like this would allow the health department to enforce orders on a local level. Under the ordinance, orders introduced by the health department could be enforced only if approved by the City Manager in the time of an emergency, or if approved by City Council or if City Council were to adopt an ordinance directly.

Nick says consequences for not complying with orders under the ordinance would lead to citations, not arrests or criminal charges. Businesses would also not be shut down.

The health ordinance was passed by the Board of Health last Monday. The next steps include first reading at Eau Claire City Council on September 22, a first reading at the Eau Claire County Board on October 6, Eau Claire City Council Public Comment on October 12.

Eau Claire City Council could take action on the ordinance on October 13 and the Eau Claire County Board could take action on October 22.

Copyright 2020 WEAU. All rights reserved.

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