Republican boycott over Statehouse covid safety rules is not what voters asked for | Editorial

Published: Nov. 30, 2021

Republicans in our state Assembly are threatening to boycott this week’s voting session if anyone in their 28-member caucus refuses to follow the COVID vaccine or test rule at the Statehouse, and is denied entry.

Yes, after winning new power with added seats coming in January, their first move was this: Refusing to do their jobs for the people who just elected them. Amazing.

With a rapid-result test option available for those who aren’t vaxed, it’s not clear what their problem is. The Legislature will even allow lawmakers to vote remotely by phone. So what’s the reasoning behind this?

“It’s different for different members,” was all Assembly Minority Office Spokesperson Todd Riffle would say. The incoming minority leader, John DiMaio, tasked with leading this charge, was just as vague. State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Morris) told Politico late Monday that Republicans plan to challenge the rules in court.

Boil it down to this: They are trying to inject politics into what should be a simple matter of public health policy. They’ve also reportedly invited Democrat Jamel Holley, a peddler of anti-vaxer conspiracy theories, to participate in their boycott.

“Whomever invited him or said they were going to invite him, it wasn’t me,” was the only response from DiMaio, who only reluctantly confirmed that he himself is vaccinated.

While he says “a vast majority” of Republicans will not vote on Thursday if anyone gets turned away because of covid rules, some moderate members disagree. Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, who’s leaving to become a state senator, says a “significant number” of other Republicans will vote no matter what.

He stressed that he is not questioning the science around vaccines, but said he also opposes the vax-or-test rules. Like DiMaio, he brought up restaurants, arguing that we don’t have such a rule there. “Why just apply it to legislators and not to average people out in society?” Bramnick asked.

The answer is, we do apply it to average people – including all the staffers of these legislators on both the Republican and Democratic sides, who have abided by a similar policy for months at the Statehouse.

Hundreds of thousands of other regular New Jerseyans are also complying with this vaccine-or-test policy already, including 70,000 state government workers, school, childcare and health care employees and those in private employment, where many large companies mandate this vaccine without a testing opt-out.

“We didn’t have anything like this earlier,” DiMaio protests of the Statehouse rules. The real question is, why not? What sense does it make to apply them to regular people, but not politicians?

DiMaio calls them “onerous” without a scrap of evidence. No one is being barred from the Statehouse or forcibly vaccinated – they’re provided options like a rapid-result test. And even if you refuse to take the test, you could still vote remotely or submit written testimony.

New Jersey’s Legislature went to a telefonic voting system, the first of its kind in the nation, back in March of 2020 to protect everyone’s welfare while the pandemic was raging, notes Skip Cimino, the executive director of the Assembly Democratic Majority Office. Other states followed suit.

Then, until Sept. of 2021, legislative hearings were held on Zoom with no complaints, he says. Far more people would be cut out of participation if they feel the Statehouse puts them at risk, such as a parent with an unvaccinated child, a cancer patient or someone with an underlying medical condition.

Don’t the rest of us have a right to see our Legislature without risking a dangerous infection?

On Thursday, lawmakers will vote on a tax cut for 80,000 New Jersey families, Speaker Craig Coughlin said in a statement on Monday. “This is the business the people of New Jersey sent us to do,” he said, adding, “We will not deviate from that course because some members want to engage in political theater.”

Republicans should also do the job they were elected for: Represent the majority of people in this state who are just trying to stay safe in a pandemic, and ensure their voices are heard on the real issues.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-12-01 03:20:54 -0800