Officials weigh in on enforcement of Indiana's new face mask mandate

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -  Governor Eric Holcomb announced a statewide mask requirement starting next Monday, July 27th. But the guidelines surrounding enforcement are still up in the air.

Although violation of the order will be a Class B Misdemeanor with up to 180 days in jail and up to $1000 fine, Holcomb himself said there won’t be any quote “mask police enforcing the order.”

Officials here in South Bend said the same thing.

“Our officers are inundated with calls every day doing the best they can to protect our city so to add this on top of it is a little bit of a struggle. While we will enforce it on a case by case basis it is not something we will seek out at this point," Christine Karsten, the media liaison for SBPD said.

So what if there is a big group gathering and no one is wearing a mask?

“It’s up to the discretion of the officer to my understanding," she said.

St. Joseph County Police, echoing that statement, saying they just can’t handle an influx in calls.

In a statement to ABC57 reading, “county police have concerns that mask complaints will overload both the dispatch center and our police department, hindering our ability to respond to other crimes in progress and to do our jobs effectively.”

Ray Schultz, the Executive Director for the county’s 911 Center is also worried about an increase.

“We already get, have been getting calls with the mask order we have had in place. I would expect with a much more strict guideline we will be getting more calls.” “it could absolutely stretch our resources in the 911 center," Schultz said.

“If we take our officers off what they’re doing to enforce a mask, what call is going unanswered because we’re responding to a mask," Karsten said.

And over at the capitol, Attorney General Curtis Hill, speaking with ABC57, after taking issue with the governor's decision saying this mandate just can’t be enforced properly.

"What's being proposed is that the governor unilaterally makes a decision that this conduct will be illegal, this will be the sanction for the illegality, and, and we will even throw out there that no one has to enforce it. That's, that's a bit more than what the emergency orders contemplated," Hill said. “So when there's a mandate, we see that as a very serious issue and requires that the public be notified of the conduct that's being determined to be wrongful conduct, and have an opportunity to weigh in. That typically happens with our legislative process.”

Curtis Hill said that the confusion surrounding this mask mandate including the enforcement of it, would all be taken care of if the governor followed the correct steps and took this to the General Assembly first.

“The issue was a mandate of masks and a criminal penalty if you don't use the mask, but then we're not going to have the police enforce the law. So it sends out a confusing message in terms of compliance. Are you supposed to comply with it? Or not. The best way to address this is to provide for the legislature if the legislature chooses to go forward to be able to raise the issue, debate the issue in a public forum so that the public recognizes and understands," he said.

Hill said he wants to make sure residents know his office is not taking a stand on the mask mandate itself and if residents should be required to wear one.

They are just giving an opinion on how to do it right.

This comes a day after Hill stated that the governor's additional powers under the emergency management and disaster law does not give him the authority to create new laws with criminal penalties.

And the General Assembly can’t grant the governor the right to create laws, and even if they did it would be unconstitutional.

But what are the next steps? Hill said there are options.

“The options would be to wait until the general assembly comes back into session in January of 2021 or if it’s determined that it needs to be done sooner, the governor has the ability to call for a special session of the legislative branch of government and they can come in and consider the question themselves," he said.

Officials at SBPD are currently wanting businesses to help enforce the order as well as remind everyone to just wear a mask and continue to social distance.

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