Gov. Holcomb signs face mask mandate, puts health departments in charge of enforcement

Coronavirus Watch

(WEHT) As promised, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Friday signed an executive order mandating face masks be worn in public in the Hoosier state. The mandate has drawn the ire of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill who says Gov. Holcomb doesn’t have the authority to issue such an executive order. Hill says under the emergency management and disaster law, it is up to the General Assembly to make a mask mandate law. Hill says the governor should call a special legislative session.

Several local sheriff’s offices have released statements saying they will not enforce the face mask mandate.

“This whole situation has, kind of, spun out of control,’ said Posey County Sheriff Tom Latham. He was one of many southwest Indiana sheriffs who say they weren’t going to enforce it. Sheriff Latham claimed the governor had no authority to pass laws without the general assembly.

“My fear is by taking someone into custody, basically ripping them of their rights to come and go as they please, if we did that, then it opens up an issue of constitutional issues that could also open up the county for lawsuits,” he said.

Sheriffs in Vanderburgh, Gibson and Dubois Counties also said they weren’t doing aggressive enforcement if it was left up to them

The official mandate puts the responsibility of enforcement on the local health departments. The executive order does not include criminal penalties.

The mandate goes into effect Monday, July 27, at 12:01 a.m., and lasts for 30 days until Aug. 26 at 11:59 p.m.

“That makes sense to me because it is a health related concern. I do wish we could have the police enforce it, but I do understand they have to do other jobs,” said Tyler Newton of Evansville, when asked about having health departments take charge of enforcement.

In a statement, Lynn Herr of the Vanderburgh County Health Department said she just learned of the change, but department officials will meet over the weekend and hope to have a plan in place by Monday on how to enforce it. Herr also said the health department does not have the manpower to aggressively enforce the mask ordinance.

The candidates for Indiana Attorney General differ on the governor’s mask mandate.

Democratic nominee Jonathan Weinzapfel supports the Republican governor, saying current Attorney General Curtis Hill is wrong to challenge the mandate. The former Evansville mayor said he would gladly defend Holcomb’s order in court.

His opponent in November, Todd Rokita, says the pandemic has raised valid concerns about individual liberty. And the former US Congressman said he looks forward to the General Assembly clarifying the law.

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(This story was originally published on July 24, 2020)

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