TRENTON – Access to the state Assembly chamber for next week’s Monday voting session and Tuesday reorganization meeting will require a negative COVID test, regardless of whether someone is vaccinated.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin announced the revised policy Friday. It could help avoid a repeat of last month’s confrontations, in which opponents of a vaccine-or-test rule sidestepped state troopers to enter for one session, then slowed the process to a crawl at the next session with lengthy speeches.

Coughlin, D-Middlesex, cited record increases in COVID-19 infections as a cause for caution.

“The pandemic has challenged us all,” Coughlin said. “But I will not compromise when it comes to the health and safety of members of the legislature and the public while conducting the people’s business.”

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The change in part reflects that plenty of people who have been fully vaccinated and boosted are being infected by the omicron variant of the virus, though their symptoms tend to be milder than they are for people who aren't vaccinated.

The Assembly reorganization session, at which all 80 members take the oath of office, including new members elected in November, takes place at the nearby Trenton War Memorial to ensure there is space for a large number of guests.

Under the new policy, a negative COVID-19 rapid test taken after noon Saturday will be required of all who intend to attend the Monday or Tuesday meetings. Members and staff will need to certify to their respective house leadership that they have a negative COVID-19 test.

A rapid testing site will be available at the Statehouse Monday for Assembly members and staff who could not get tested beforehand and again Tuesday for all legislators and new members’ guests for the reorganization ceremony.

A phone line will be available in order for those who cannot make the Monday session or who test positive to participate and attend.

The Assembly gallery will be closed to the public, with the session available to view live online. Reporters covering the sessions will have to comply with the testing rule.

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