Showdown Looms Over NJ State House Vaccine Mandate
Republicans in the General Assembly could boycott Thursday's voting session over a policy that requires them to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before being allowed to enter the state capitol building.
In October, The State Capitol Joint Management Commission approved a policy requiring anyone entering the Statehouse and its annex for legislative business to present proof they're fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or a recent negative PCR test. That includes lawmakers and legislative staff.
The vote of the commission was 5-2, with its two Republican legislative staff appointees opposed.
Members of the Legislature, who are attending voting sessions, quorum calls, or any other meetings or gatherings in the Legislative State House, State House Annex and
Legislative Staff Building/South Addition, must provide proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR or rapid test result from a test that was conducted in the previous seven (7) days. - State Capitol Joint Management Commission Resolution
At the time, Christine Shipley, executive director of the Senate Republican office, said the testing requirement was unworkable, given issues in having access to tests and the wait for results, combined with the typical revisions to committee agendas that are made on short notice.
Now, it appears the entire Republican delegation in the Assembly will challenge that rule.
Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville) told NJ Globe he had no intention of complying with what he termed an "unconstitutional State House policy.” "To do so," Bergen said, "Would give credence to the idea that mandates and discrimination based on vaccine status is ok, and its not ok.”
What happens next is unclear.
It is unlikely Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin will change the policy for his chamber. He has already said lawmakers who do not, or cannot, comply with the mandate could attend the session virtually. Republicans have said that is not good enough.
If a member of the public were to attempt to enter the State House without showing proof of vaccination status or a negative test, it would be up to the State Police to enforce the mandate and bar entry. If the person refused to leave the State House, they would be subject to arrest.
However, it is not clear if State Troopers have the authority under the State Constitution to bar entry to, or arrest, sitting legislators.
A provision in the State Constitution states that members of the Senate and General Assembly shall "be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the sitting of their respective houses, and in going to and returning from the same.” The only exception is in cases of "treason and high misdemeanor."
Unless some exception is made, all 28 Republican members of the Assembly are likely to boycott this week's voting session. The Globe reports they will invite anti-vaccination Democratic Assemblyman Jamel Holley to join them.
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