Stage set for another showdown over COVID rules as Assembly plans Monday return to N.J. Statehouse

Published: Dec. 08, 2021

New Jersey’s state Assembly leadership plans to hold in-person committee hearings Monday after ordering a week of virtual meetings because a handful of Republican lawmakers refused to comply with new COVID-19 rules on entering the Statehouse, NJ Advance Media has learned.

The decision to return to the Statehouse at the start of the week was made after a regular leadership meeting between Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, and top Democrats in the lower chamber Wednesday afternoon, according to a source with knowledge of the event who was not authorized to speak publicly.

It all but ensures another showdown between State Police and a handful of Republicans who last week defied the new rules since several of them serve on the half-dozen Assembly committee hearings slated for Monday.

A group of Republican Assembly members on Thursday balked at the rules that require people to show proof of vaccination or a negative test before they enter the Statehouse. Their protest led to a 15-minute standoff as State Police troopers tried to block them from entering the Assembly chamber for a voting session before ultimately letting them enter.

Gov. Phil Murphy expressed his outrage at the lawmakers on Wednesday, calling their actions “absolutely outrageous, incredibly irresponsible (and) unforgivable.”

But he repeatedly refused to answer questions about why the lawmakers were allowed inside in the first place and whether the State Police will enforce the rules next time. He made his comments after the head of the State Police, acting Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan, was asked why troopers let lawmakers into the Statehouse after he said earlier last week they wouldn’t be allowed entry if they didn’t show vaccination or negative test status.

Eventually, Callahan circled back to the question and said: “We take that security of that Statehouse complex extremely seriously and will certainly continue to do so.”

Among the committees slated to meet Monday is Assembly Appropriations. Several Republicans who refused to abide by the new rules are members of the committee, including Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, who promptly shot back at Murphy on Wednesday after his comments.

“You know you’re winning the argument when the governor resorts to name-calling,” Bergen said in a statement.

“The truth is that I was fully in compliance with the Statehouse policy when I walked in last week,” he added. “The only thing I would not do was show proof.

No decision has been made as to whether any other Assembly committee hearings or sessions will be in person following Monday. The next scheduled voting session is Dec. 16.

Republicans filed a lawsuit challenging the policy, arguing it’s unconstitutional and that the little-known state commission that approved it overstepped its authority. A judge has set a hearing date for Monday.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-12-09 03:23:48 -0800