Indiana attorney general argues state mask mandate illegal

Indiana’s attorney general believes the governor has overstepped his authority in issuing a statewide face mask mandate and that only the Legislature can make violations a criminal offense.

Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill issued an advisory opinion Wednesday night, just hours after GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the mask order taking effect Monday to help slow the coronavirus spread.

Hill’s opinion responded to a request from state Senate majority leader Mark Messmer of Jasper and four other Republican senators about Holcomb’s legal authority to impose a mask mandate.

The opinion, which does not block the governor’s action, said the state’s emergency law doesn’t give Holcomb authority for the mask mandate without the consent of the Legislature. Hill said the governor should call the Legislature back into 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 in a statement.

The governor’s office didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment Thursday.

Hill is on his way out of office after failing to win the Republican nomination for reelection earlier this month. Holcomb opposed Hill’s bid and had called for him to resign over allegations that he drunkenly groped a state lawmaker and three other women during a party.