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Indiana governor drops mask violator penalty after criticism

Indiana’s governor dropped a planned criminal penalty from the statewide face mask mandate that he signed Friday after objections from some law enforcement officials and conservative legislators.

Posted: Jul 24, 2020 4:41 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s governor dropped a planned criminal penalty from the statewide face mask mandate that he signed Friday after objections from some law enforcement officials and conservative legislators.

The decision comes after Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb had said Wednesday in announcing the mask requirement that violators could face a misdemeanor charge, while stating that the “mask police will not be patrolling Hoosier streets.”

The executive order on the mask mandate, however, does not mention penalties and describes the move as a step to protect health during the coronavirus outbreak and help ensure that businesses remain open while allowing schools to reopen and operate safely.

“State and local health departments shall be responsible for enforcing compliance through education about the importance of wearing face coverings and dispelling myths and misconceptions about the use and/or benefits for the requirement,” the order said.

State Attorney General Curtis Hill, who is also a Republican, issued a non-binding opinion Wednesday night, saying Holcomb would be overstepping his authority and that only the Legislature could make violations a criminal offense. That opinion was in response to questions from five Republican state senators regarding Holcomb’s legal power.

The Indiana Senate’s leader praised Holcomb’s decision to drop the possible misdemeanor offense, which could have carried penalties of up to $1,000 in fines and a maximum 180 days in jail.

“Senate Republicans have been in close contact with the governor since his announcement of the new mask mandate earlier this week,” said Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville. “We are very pleased to see that the executive order he signed today does not include a criminal penalty for non-compliance.”

The governor’s office didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment about Holcomb's decision.

Some conservative lawmakers criticized Holcomb’s mandate announcement for using the state’s emergency law to sidestep the Legislature, which hasn't met since adjourning this year’s session in March just before widespread coronavirus precautions began.

Several of the state's police chiefs and sheriffs had indicated they wouldn’t have officers respond solely to calls about face mask violators. Some said they considered Holcomb’s proposed mandate unconstitutional.

The sheriff in Hamilton County, just north of Indianapolis, said he agreed with the attorney general’s opinion that only the Legislature could make a face mask violation illegal.

“Regardless of any opinion of masks or their impact on COVID-19 good or bad, we must not deviate from the documents which protect our freedoms and liberties,” said Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush, a Republican. “We must guard them at all costs. The men and women of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office will not be enforcing the mask mandate and will consider it null and void.”

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Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 665285

Reported Deaths: 12697
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion910581653
Lake48637887
Allen36050641
Hamilton32231398
St. Joseph30243514
Elkhart25484420
Vanderburgh21315382
Tippecanoe20185205
Johnson16425361
Porter16053276
Hendricks15899301
Clark12032182
Madison11779321
Vigo11672231
Monroe10394164
Delaware9879179
LaPorte9821198
Howard9095199
Kosciusko8588111
Bartholomew7504147
Warrick7445153
Hancock7439134
Floyd7255172
Wayne6654192
Grant6453157
Boone611991
Morgan6118126
Dubois5933112
Dearborn550669
Cass5477100
Marshall5446105
Henry542695
Noble510978
Jackson465567
Shelby462591
Lawrence4193113
Gibson404985
Harrison402764
Clinton397053
Montgomery390584
DeKalb387178
Knox357885
Miami357863
Whitley350638
Huntington348377
Steuben339855
Wabash333076
Putnam331960
Ripley327862
Adams325149
Jasper318443
White298052
Jefferson295974
Daviess285696
Fayette272656
Decatur271388
Greene262280
Posey261432
Wells258975
Scott251450
LaGrange242170
Clay241444
Randolph225877
Spencer219330
Jennings216344
Washington213027
Sullivan203639
Fountain202542
Starke189251
Owen183453
Fulton179637
Jay178528
Carroll176919
Perry173836
Orange171351
Rush165422
Vermillion161542
Franklin159735
Tipton149241
Parke140116
Pike128433
Blackford120627
Pulaski107544
Newton96732
Brown95240
Benton92413
Crawford92113
Martin80314
Warren75914
Switzerland7558
Union67510
Ohio54111
Unassigned0434

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