INDIANAPOLIS – Attorney General Curtis Hill said late Wednesday that Gov. Eric Holcomb doesn't have the authority to criminalize violations of his new mask mandate.
Hill issued a formal advisory opinion in response to five senators' request just hours after Holcomb announced a statewide face-covering requirement. The governor said violations would be a Class B misdemeanor.
“Without properly delegated authority from the General Assembly, the proposed order would not have the force and effect of law,” the opinion said. “The General Assembly would need to specifically and clearly allow for a mask mandate by law.”
Hill recently lost the GOP nomination to retain his office, and has differed with Holcomb – who called for Hill's resignation after Hill was accused of groping four women at an after-party in 2018.
“Scientists tell us that wearing face masks is an effective means of helping prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” Hill said in a press release. “The wisdom of wearing masks – or of laws requiring such measures – is not the issue here. Rather, the issue is whether we are following the proper and constitutional processes for enacting laws and whether we are respecting the distinct roles of each branch of state government.”
Hill noted that executive orders have an important and legitimate function in times of emergency. But he said if Holcomb believes it is necessary to enact a mask-wearing mandate, he should call a special legislative session.
“By this point in the pandemic – more than four months since the emergency declaration – it's time to show some deference to the branch of government actually charged by our state constitution with the responsibility for enacting laws,” Hill said.
The five GOP senators who sought the opinion are Sen. Blake Doriot of Syracuse; Sen. Mark Messmer of Jasper; Sen. Jim Tomes of Wadesville; Sen. Aaron Freeman of Indianapolis; and Sen. Jim Buck of Kokomo.
Holcomb plans to sign the executive order today with it becoming effective Monday.