Update : Source says Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin is barring legislators, most Republicans, from entering the State Assembly chamber unless they comply with his new policy to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test, and the New Jersey State Police appear to to changing their position again and threatening to bar lawmakers access to the Assembly floor. “If it’s unconstitutional outside the statehouse, it’s unconstitutional in the chambers too,” said Assemblyman Brian Bergen. “Constitutional protections don’t stop at the door.”
The New Jersey State Police didn’t ask lawmakers for proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test when they entered the statehouse on Thursday, putting responsibility for enforcing a policy on legislative leaders.
Republicans have gone to court to appeal a rule adopted by the State Capitol Joint Management Commission that requires anyone entering the statehouse complex to show their vaccination record or proof of a negative Covid test within the last 72 hours.
“I’m glad to see them back down and not enforce this unconstitutional and nonsensical policy when I walked in this morning,” Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville) told the New Jersey Globe. “I’m troubled though that they are enforcing it on the public still. Access to the statehouse should be open to all and not discriminatory.”
Acting State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan had signaled support for the policy earlier this week, but the State Police later walked that back.
The decision by the State Police to not enforce the policy came one day after acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck assured Democratic legislative leaders that they would be checking for vaccination proof.
“I can assure you they will,” Bruck told Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin in a letter obtained by the NJ Globe. “I have consulted with the NJSP Superintendent, Colonel Patrick Callahan, and you may disregard prior communications that conflict with this assurance, which were based on a previous plan for ensuring compliance with the resolution.”
Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) confirmed that he also entered the statehouse complex today without be asked to show any documentation or to take a rapid Covid test.
“I didn’t intend to comply this morning and I have no intention of complying this afternoon if the Speaker makes a rule from the floor,” Bergen said.
The non-partisan New Jersey Office of Legislative Services issued an opinion on Monday saying that legislators could not be arrested for ignoring the policy, but that the legislature itself could enforce their own rules.
Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin today issued a new rule that would require legislators to show proof of full vaccination or a negative Covid test from the last 72 hours before entering the Senate and Assembly chambers and committee rooms.
“The Presiding Officers have the authority to protect the safety of members, officers and employees of the Legislature in performance of their official duties, as well as that of the general public in connection with the conduct of the Legislature’s official business,” a document signed by Sweeney and Coughlin said.
Another Republican assemblyman, Christopher DePhillips (R-Wyckoff), has proposed removing executive branch members from the commission and replacing them with appointees of all four legislative leaders.