INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb on Thursday defended his authority to issue a statewide mandate on face coverings while also saying he won't criminalize violators.
His statements came after lame-duck Attorney General Curtis Hill questioned the legality of Holcomb's order, and the nominees for the next Attorney General differed in their response to the requirement.
“I don't live under the threat of lawsuit. We do our research before we speak,” Holcomb said.
But he did acknowledge that a number of GOP lawmakers are concerned about the mandate.
The exact wording wasn't yet made public but he promised to underscore that he isn't focusing on enforcement.
“The mandate isn't something I pulled out of thin air. The mandate is for a good reason,” he said, noting lawmakers don't want to go back and shut down businesses again.
“I'm making the case that wearing a mask scientifically speaking helps,” Holcomb said. “Mask up so we don't shut down.”
Indiana set a single-day record Thursday with 954 new cases of COVID-19. Previously the most new cases in a day was 946 in late April. There were also 17 new deaths for a total of 2,683 statewide.
Another Allen County resident died and 26 have tested positive, bringing the total to 3,247 cases and 149 deaths Thursday. The only other northeast Indiana county with a new death was Kosciusko.
At least five Republican lawmakers asked Attorney General Curtis Hill on Wednesday whether the governor has the legal authority to issue a mandate that includes penalties. Hill said the governor is overreaching into legislative authority and recommended a special session.
Democrat Attorney General nominee Jonathan Weinzapfel said Holcomb is on solid legal standing.
He said the General Assembly crafted a broad emergency powers statute and that law makes violating any emergency order a Class B misdemeanor.
It was the same law used earlier this year to cite Hoosiers ignoring the stay-at-home order.
“He's not creating a new crime,” Weinzapfel said. He also supports the mask mandate in general as the “most important thing we can do is create a safe and healthy learning environment for our kids.”
GOP Attorney General nominee Todd Rokita didn't explicitly comment on the legality of Holcomb's order. Instead he focused on how he would help legislators dial back the authority given to the governor for future emergencies.
“Our laws did not anticipate the situation we have today and it has raised valid concerns about individual liberty while protecting public health,” he said.
The state's Emergency Disaster Law was meant for short-term incidents like floods, explosions, localized health dangers or even acts of terrorism, a press release said.
“This Chinese virus has impacted our health, our economy, people's paychecks, and our kid's education for months,” Rokita said. “I look forward to our General Assembly clarifying this law, and if I am Attorney General our Governor, Senators and Representatives can count on my support working with them to reform the law, maximizing individual liberty while protecting the public.”