GOP lawmakers who defy new COVID rules for N.J. Statehouse access could be shut out, top cop says

Published: Nov. 29, 2021

The head of the State Police said Monday people trying to enter the Statehouse who refuse to show proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19 or a negative coronavirus test will likely be denied access to the building under a new rule that goes into effect on Wednesday.

And that could include lawmakers.

The statement from Acting State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan came after Republican lawmakers cried foul over the rule they argue is unconstitutional. Some lawmakers have said they will refuse to abide by the rule when they arrive in Trenton on Thursday for voting sessions.

“I do think they’d have the ability to refuse entry for those men and women,” Callahan said Monday during Gov. Phil Murphy’s regular COVID-19 briefing.

He added: “It’s certainly something I’d consult with the attorney general’s office on and would certainly do that if that issue arises.”

State Police patrol the Statehouse and there are security guards contracted by the State Police who monitor people who enter the building.

Murphy, for his part, accused lawmakers who oppose the measures of playing politics.

“This is not just ‘you need to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test,’” He said. “(They) actually have rapid tests at the Statehouse, so there’s no burden whatsoever on anybody outside of that and I think anybody who’s messing with this is being completely reckless.”

“Look at the (new COVID-19) numbers. They’re going up. Come on man, let’s not play politics,” he said. “This is about keeping people safe and healthy.”

But Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick defended members of his caucus who object to the rules, questioning if it’s about good public policy and why rules on entering the Statehouse are more stringent than other COVID-19 measures.

“The only question I have is this really consistent with everything else we have in society or is it over the top?” Bramnick, R-Union, told NJ Advance Media. “You’re not banning people from restaurants but you’re banning people from voting?”

Bramnick said he intends to vote during the session Thursday, meaning he’ll likely comply with the rules. But he questioned whether they are constitutional and would withstand a legal challenge.

The State Capitol Joint Management Commission, an eight-member body made up of four people appointed by Murphy’s administration and one member each by the state Senate and Assembly Democratic and Republican caucuses, voted 5-2 to approve the policy in late October.

Republicans, the minority party in both the Senate and Assembly, expressed doubt and concern about the unilateral power the policy gives Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex — especially how it applies to the 120 lawmakers in the Legislature.

Under the resolution, people who wish to enter the Statehouse and the Statehouse annex on committee days, voting sessions, or for any other meetings will need to show proof of full vaccination or a negative coronavirus PCR test from within 72 hours. Tests will also be made available at the Statehouse.

The policy will apply to all lawmakers, legislative staff members, reporters covering events, and anyone visiting the Statehouse, including those who want to speak at a hearing or protest a bill inside the building.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-11-30 03:27:15 -0800