The Republican Caucus of the Indianapolis City-County Council plans to introduce a resolution calling for the repeal of the Marion County Public Health Department’s pandemic mask mandate, it announced Thursday.
The proposed resolution calls for advising the health department to repeal its mask mandate and refrain from closing a business or private school based on their mask policy. It would advise businesses and retailers that they can make their own mask policy and allow individuals to determine whether to wear a mask.
“The Marion County Health Department has been free to operate without any checks or balances for far too long,” Councilor Josh Bain, a Republican recently elected by caucus to represent District 20, said in written comments. “The fact that an unelected county official can shut down a business, private school or create a fine with the simple stroke of a pen without any oversight should be alarming to anyone who cherishes personal freedom and responsibility.”
Since July 9, face masks or coverings have been required in indoor places where people gather, including inside office buildings where employees don’t have an individual office and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible.
The Marion County Public Health Department issued the mandate as coronavirus cases spiked this summer. The county mandate came before Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an executive order directing a similar mask requirement for the entire state. Indiana’s mandate, however, is not being enforced.
In Marion County, those who refuse to comply with the mask requirement face a fine of up to $1,000, although the department has repeatedly stressed it has taken an education-first approach to enforcement.
“Personal responsibility should be the guiding principal to encourage the mask wearing rather than prosecution,” the Republican council members said in a written statement.
The county health department declined to comment. It’s unclear if any individuals have been fined for not wearing a mask, but some businesses have faced fines (a spokesman for the department told IBJ he needed to check). And the department has threatened to close businesses that don’t adhere to coronavirus guidelines for reopening.
The mask mandate has been supported by Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat who has repeatedly emphasized the importance of residents and businesses adhering to the rule.
“Like Governor Holcomb, Mayor Hogsett has relied on the guidance and expertise of public health experts to shape the policies and protocols necessary to keep residents safe,” Taylor Schaffer, deputy chief of staff for Hogsett, said in an email to IBJ. “Since the mask mandate was put into place, our community’s positivity rate has declined by nearly 50%, allowing events to occur, businesses to reopen, and our local economy to begin to recover. This sort of evidence-based response is critical when the lives of Marion County residents are at stake.”
Mask mandates have become politicized across the nation.
Bain said no one is arguing that masks don’t work. The resolution, he said, is about oversight and accountability.
“We trust our neighbors and business owners to serve on juries, civic organizations, PTOs, and school boards; however, apparently, the trust ends there,” he said. “The leadership in our county does not trust them to determine their own mask policy. Hundreds of businesses have permanently closed due to these overreaching mandates.”
The council, which has 20 Democrats and five Republicans, is next scheduled to meet Sept. 28. Bain said he hopes the health department will be responsive to his concerns.