Compromise in the works over Statehouse vax-or-test policy

 Politico

01/04/2022

Signs requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination are shown posted outside committee rooms at the Statehouse on Dec. 3, 2021, in Trenton, N.J. 

---

Assembly Democrats and Republicans are nearing a compromise on the Statehouse vaccine-or-test mandate, potentially heading off another protest by a small group of conservatives who used delay tactics to stretch the last voting session to 11 hours.

“It looks like something is being worked out with the majority and the speaker,” said Assemblymember John DiMaio (R-Warren), the incoming minority leader who’s largely taken leadership of the caucus since his election to the post.

DiMaio — who said he just recovered from Covid even though he’s vaccinated but not yet boosted — declined to offer details, saying only that an agreement would involve a change to the policy that “I’m not at liberty to talk about right now.”

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While the compromise would likely have to involve Senate leadership as well, most of the controversy over the policy has played out in the lower house.

Monday is the final voting day of the lame duck session, which officially ends Tuesday.

Background: The State Capitol Joint Management Commission and Democratic legislative leaders have instituted policies requiring anyone entering the Statehouse or their chambers, respectively, to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test result. Lawmakers were also offered rapid Covid tests before entering the Statehouse.

DiMaio and incoming Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-Sussex) sued to halt the policy, but were denied a stay.

Several Republican assemblymembers protested the policies last month, first refusing to show proof of vaccination for a Dec. 2 voting session, walking past state troopers guarding the entrance to the chamber and staging a sit-in on the floor for about two hours before Coughlin relented and held a shortened voting session.

On Dec. 20, six GOP assemblymembers who were denied access to the Statehouse because they refused to comply with the mandate called into the voting session and purposefully delayed it by using procedural points and speaking on even the most uncontroversial, mundane bills. A session that normally would have taken just a couple of hours dragged on for 11 hours.

Context: The potential compromise comes as New Jersey is seeing a big spike in Covid hospitalizations. The state on Tuesday reported another 25,277 newly confirmed PCR tests and 5,155 hospitalizations.

Assemblymember Brian Bergen (R-Morris), one of the six Republicans who protested during the Dec. 20 voting session, said he hopes for a compromise and would like to see rapid testing made available to all Statehouse visitors — not just lawmakers.

“I’m hopeful we can reach a compromise that adequately protects public health without overstepping authority and violating rights. My preference from the beginning has been universal testing, which now makes the most sense as data before the holidays demonstrated that 30-percent of new cases are in vaccinated people,” Bergen said in a statement, referring to figures publicized by Gov. Phil Murphy.

Bergen said he “agonized” over last month’s protest, but “it was the right action for the situation we were presented with and I expect that history will prove that.”

What’s next: DiMaio said he’s confident the compromise will be reached before Monday‘s voting session.

“There’s a lot of passion and maybe a little over-exuberance, but as a result hopefully we’ll come out with something we can all get through this with. That’s really what it’s about — what’s going to be the safest thing. That is news to come from the speaker,” DiMaio said. “He’s been reasonable and I think we should be reasonable with each other and find the best outcome and pray to God this thing ends.”

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction


published this page in News and Politics 2022-01-05 03:27:29 -0800