By STEVEN MURREY
In response to rising COVID-19 numbers, Gov. Eric Holcomb has issued a face mask mandate to go into effect July 27.
Holcomb’s order requires face coverings for anyone who is 8-years and older in indoor public places, businesses, transportation services, or in outside space where social distancing is not possible.
Initially, Holcomb’s order said violations would be considered a Class B misdemeanor. However, the order signed Friday does not include any penalties.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said earlier this week that Holcomb lacked the legal authority to enforce such a mandate.
Following Holcomb’s remarks, local law enforcement authorities reacted, expressing doubt of the legality of the mandate.
On Thursday, Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger said his department would not respond to calls solely based on mask use, or lack thereof.
Following Mellinger’s lead, Alexandria Police Chief Terry Richwine said his department would not enforce the governor’s mandate.
“There is a lively debate on the governor’s executive right to create law, which is normally reserved for the legislative branch,” Richwine said. “At this time, the Alexandria Police Department shall not be enforcing the wearing of the virus protective masks.”
Chief Dave Huffman of Frankton said his department is in the same boat.
“We want to make sure we’re on solid ground, and I’m not sure we’re on solid ground,” Huffman said.
He said beginning Monday, Frankton police officers will comply with the mask mandate, but will not be responding to calls based solely on masks.
Elwood Police Chief Jason Brizendine also echoed Mellinger and Richwine’s response.
“I feel this is more of a health issue, and not ours,” Brizendine said Friday. “We are not going to be enforcing mask-wearing.”
Brizendine encouraged Elwood residents to follow the governor’s directive.
“I encourage it,” he said. “People ought to do it because there are a lot of people out there that are fearful – we should respect that, too.”
Brizendine said though the department will not respond to simple calls in reference to masks, the department will step into issues of keeping the peace related to masks.
Brizendine said Elwood officers would wear masks in compliance with the governor’s order. Mayor Todd Jones said Wednesday following Holcomb’s announcement that masks have been purchased for all police officers.
“We are going to follow the rules,” Brizendine said.