TRENTON, NJ — Disorder and confusion erupted outside the New Jersey Assembly as several Republican lawmakers defied a new requirement to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test and were—albeit briefly—blocked by state poachers from entering the ornate room. to enter on Thursday.
Ahead of an expected voting session, at least 10 Republicans marched into the room on the first day the virus requirement went into effect. They were stopped at the room door for about 10 minutes by uniformed troopers before entering without any proof of vaccination or a negative test. The officers standing at the door refused to explain.
“You have no right to stop us,” said Member of Parliament Erik Peterson. “See this? See this, folks? Deny us access to our house.”
“This is America,” added Assembly member Hal Wirths. Lawmakers compared the situation to something that could happen in a dictatorship.
A handful of GOP lawmakers cleared the door after Assembly member Brian Bergen asked troopers, “I can go 30 feet that way, 30 feet that way, but not that way?” signal to the room.
Moments later, several other members of the Assembly – who had previously refused to show vaccination cards or a negative test – walked into the room unblocked. An email has been sent to the state police requesting clarification. The officers standing at the door refused to explain.
Lawmakers who do not follow protocol have been barred from entering the legislative chambers, said assembly spokesman Craig Coughlin’s spokesman Kevin McArdle, who added that leaders have spoken with state police and the attorney general’s office. Coughlin is a Democrat.
The display unfolded during the first voting session of the lame duck period, the time frame between the November elections and the start of the new legislature in January. It also marked the first time lawmakers met to vote since requiring anyone entering the state building to show a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination.
At the entrances around the complex, there were tables with officials checking documents, poster boards announcing the new policy on easels, and state agents lined the building.
Some Republicans ignored the rule, saying it was unenforceable and claiming it violates the state constitution.
“It is unfair and completely discriminatory policy. They essentially create two classes of people, vaccinated and unvaccinated,” Bergen said.
But others reluctantly adhered to it. GOP State Sen. Holly Schepisi offered her vaccination card to troopers stationed outside the Senate chambers.
“I know you’re just doing your job,” she said before calling the demand a derogatory term.
Republicans are also demanding a court order against the requirement. Incoming Assembly and Senate leaders are calling for a lawsuit in the new sessions to block the order laid down in a November joint committee resolution.
“The policies set forth in the resolution constitute an unprecedented oversight by a state agency,” the lawsuit states.
Kevin Drennan, the committee’s chairman, declined to comment on the lawsuit through a spokesperson.
Democratic Governor Phil Murphy has made similar demands on state workers. On Monday, he condemned the GOP’s opposition to the state house.
“I think anyone who is messing with this is completely reckless,” Murphy said.
The disagreement comes because Congressional Republicans who oppose President Joe Biden’s vaccination rules in Congress are about to suspend a funding bill that must be passed. The Biden administration has pushed for vaccine requirements for several groups of workers, but the effort faces one setback after another in lawsuits.