In a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy sent yesterday, Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin) – one of the leaders of last week’s Assembly Republican revolt – declared the statehouse’s vaccine-or-testing mandate unconstitutional and threatened to file charges against anyone who attempted to force him to follow it.
“Be advised, if anyone prevents, impedes or obstructs my travel to or from Trenton or my entrance into the statehouse building complex, preventing me from performing my legislative duties as a duly elected legislator, I will file civil and criminal charges against the person(s) who gave the orders and those who carried out the orders,” Peterson wrote.
The state constitution reads that state legislators be “privileged from arrest” while in the legislature “in all cases except treason and high misdemeanor,” which Republicans argue means that they can’t be prevented from entering the capitol over a non-treasonous dispute like Covid vaccination. A court date has been set for December 13 to hear arguments over the mandate.
Peterson’s letter added that Murphy’s harsh words for Republican lawmakers, in which he called their actions “idiocy” and “unforgivable,” did not daunt him.
“I read your excessively melodramatic statements, which are based on fearmongering and not science, regarding the Democrat statehouse vaccine mandate,” he wrote. “This is just another example of your disdain and utter contempt for the rule of law and the Constitution which you famously stated are ‘above your paygrade.’”
The capitol complex’s mandate has been stuck in limbo for over a week, following Assembly Republicans’ refusal to abide by the requirement and the state police’s subsequent acquiescence last Thursday. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-South Amboy) responded by switching this week’s Assembly committee hearings to remote, likely delaying further showdowns until the next full voting session on December 16.
The Senate, meanwhile, has functioned relatively normally. Most Senate Republicans have abided by the mandate with only verbal disapproval, and the Senate conducted in-person committee hearings this week, albeit with State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) participating remotely in opposition to the mandate.
Murphy has thus far refused to answer questions about the state police’s response to the revolt and its plans for the coming voting session.