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New Jersey State Assembly chambers in 2021. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Assembly Republicans won’t follow vaccine or Covid test mandate

Consensus among GOP legislators not to attend December 2 session if some members are denied access to Statehouse, Assembly floor

By David Wildstein, November 26 2021 3:39 pm

Assembly Republicans are planning to challenge a new rule that would ban lawmakers from entering the statehouse if they can’t provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test at their next session on December 2.

In a virtual meeting on Wednesday, GOP legislators agreed that if some of their colleagues are blocked from entering the statehouse, none of them would participate in next week’s voting session, the New Jersey Globe has confirmed.

Discussions regarding the new policy began two days after the November election when Assembly Republicans met to elect their new leadership team.  Incoming Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio (R-Hackettstown) was charged with voicing his party’s objections to Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

Multiple legislators have told the NJ Globe that there is a broad consensus within the Republican caucus to proceed as a block in opposition to the policy, with the hope that Coughlin will back down.

The Republicans are ready to either work this out quietly – or loudly – based on the decision of the Democratic leadership.

“I have no intention of complying with this unconstitutional statehouse policy,” said Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville).  “To do so would give credence to the idea that mandates and discrimination based on vaccine status is ok, and it’s not ok.”

The policy was adopted by the State Capitol Joint Management Commission and would block some legislators – at this point, at least 28 Republicans – from entering the building without providing evidence that they were vaccinated or displaying proof of a negative PCR or rapid test conducted over the previous seven days.

“It’s a backward policy,” said Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains), who was one of the first legislators to raise the issue.  “It’s irrational and the citizens shouldn’t be penalized for it.”

Republicans have not ruled out a legal challenge to the policy, perhaps based on a section of the State Constitution that prevents law enforcement from preventing legislators from attending a session in Trenton.

The provision states that “members of the Senate and General Assembly shall, in all cases except treason and high misdemeanor, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the sitting of their respective houses, and in going to and returning from the same.”

Under the new policy, legislators who can’t enter the statehouse may join the session remotely.

“You can’t create a second class legislator with them on the phone and not on the floor,” Webber said.  “Citizens should not have their rights curtailed based on vaccination status.”

Republicans are planning to invite Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Roselle), an anti-vaccination Democrat who will leave office next month, to join them.

It’s still not clear if the New Jersey State Police, which has jurisdiction over security at the Capitol complex, will prevent lawmakers from entering the building – or if they will arrest legislators who seek access to the Assembly floor on December 2.

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