Home>Highlight>Assembly Republicans, denied access to chambers over vax policy, push through anyways

Legislators wait to enter the New Jersey General Assembly chambers on December 2, 2021. (Photo: Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

Assembly Republicans, denied access to chambers over vax policy, push through anyways

Senate Republicans have obeyed mandate with fewer fireworks

By Joey Fox, December 02 2021 2:13 pm

Assembly Republicans stayed true to their word and refused to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter the Assembly chambers today, a conflict which has so far ended in stalemate.

Finding that state troopers would not physically restrain them from entry, most Assembly Republicans have now settled on the Assembly floor without obeying the statehouse’s vaccine-or-testing mandate. It’s unclear for now whether they’ll be allowed to stay when voting begins.

“They’re denying us entry into our house,” Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin) declared after state troopers initially blocked him from the Assembly chambers. “This is tyranny, folks! America: see what’s happening! They’re not letting the minority party vote.”

After several minutes of negotiating with the troopers and making grand proclamations to the press, however, Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville) made a discovery – if he pushed his way into the chamber, the troopers wouldn’t stop him.

“They’re not gonna physically restrain us,” Bergen said. We can walk right past them.”

Initially, the mandate applied to the capitol complex at large, but Republican assemblymembers were allowed in unperturbed this morning after the Office of Legislative Services determined that the policy could not prevent legislators from voting.

Shortly afterwards, however, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-South Amboy) declared that the chambers themselves would be accessible only with proof of vaccination or a negative test

There’s been far less drama on the Senate side of the legislature today, where some Republican senators have objected to the policy but nonetheless still followed it.

“This is bullshit,” State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) told a state trooper as she reluctantly showed him her vaccine card and entered the chamber.

State Sen. Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor Township), who also entered the Senate floor without issue after showing his vaccine card, said that he still objected to the policy on the grounds that providing medical records shouldn’t be necessary for entry.

“I don’t think anybody should be denied access to the statehouse based on their medical history,” Polistina said. “The fact that they’re being denied access to rooms in the statehouse is absolutely inappropriate, and should not happen.”

In addition to today’s varied protests, Republicans have initiated several other plans in recent days to avert or nullify the statehouse mandate, which was implemented by the State Capitol Joint Management Commission and took effect yesterday. Senate Republicans have filed a lawsuit against the policy, while Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips (R-Wyckoff) introduced a bill to reshape the management commission.

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