Vaccine Bill, School Cuts Spark Protest of Sweeney in Toms River
TOMS RIVER — State Senate President Steve Sweeney most likely will be greeted by protesters who are against both a vaccination bill and school funding cuts at a scheduled appearance in the township on Tuesday.
The Gloucester County Democrat is set to attend a meeting for the Ocean County Mayors Association, planned at the Grove Restaurant, which is part of the Howard Johnson Hotel at 955 Hooper Avenue.
Sweeney supported the school funding plan, first outlined in Governor Murphy's proposed budget in March 2019, that cuts funding to 200 districts while increasing aid to almost 370 districts.
The Toms River Regional School District has been among the most vocal opponents of the plan, sending busloads of students to Trenton for two demonstrations at the Statehouse.
Supporters of the group "TR: Our Community Deserves Better" is planning a protest starting at 7:30 a.m., according to a post on its Facebook page. The group plans to meet outside the restaurant, as the meeting is not open to the public.
"Some have decided to make their presence known. There is strength in numbers. Join those that are fighting for their rights and fight for our school system and community," the group posted.
A representative of the group did not immediately return a message on Sunday afternoon.
Also planning a protest Tuesday are members of the group, "New Jersey for Medical Freedom," to voice opposition to the bill that would toughen exemptions for immunization requirements, by ending religious exemptions and specify rules for medical exemptions.
The bill was passed in December by the state Assembly, 45-25, with six votes to abstain. The legislation stalled in the Senate, amid fierce demonstrations at the Statehouse.
“We’re short, but we’re not done with it. They can cheer all they want. We’re not walking away from it,” Sweeney said at the time, adding “It’s the right policy decision. It’s absolutely the right health care policy decisions. And we’re going to move forward.”
Sweeney indicated last month he would try again to post the bill for a vote in the January voting sessions, before the two-year legislative session ends Jan. 14.
"We are peacefully asking for all parents to gather to protest Sweeney's discrimination and segregation of children that refuse to be forced immunized. We are asking him and our state legislators to vote no on S2173 and keep our religious and medical exemptions," New Jersey for Medical Freedom founder Ayla Wolf told New Jersey 101.5.
The immunization bill was sponsored by state Senators Joe Vitale and Loretta Weinberg.
Wolf said that if Sweeney were to cancel his appearance or move it to another venue because of the planned protest she would consider it a "win" for her group, which hopes to persuade Sweeney to reconsider supporting the bill.
Mayor's Association president William Curtis, the mayor of Bay Head, did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.