Republican lawmakers to file challenge to State House COVID-19 vaccine policy
A showdown is brewing at the New Jersey State House over COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
A new policy that will impact visitors, employees and lawmakers is set to take effect on Wednesday. But Republican lawmakers are planning to file a legal challenge.
“What we have, I think, is a very responsible policy with any number of ways to comply,” says Democratic State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.
But not everyone agrees.
“I think if we give up this liberty and freedom here, who knows what they’re going to take next time. And there’s just no reason for it,” says Republican State Assemblyman Hal Wirths.
Visitors, employees and the state’s 120 lawmakers will need to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter the State House.
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“In a civil society, we have an obligation. Your rights end where mine begin,” Coughlin says.
Coughlin says that for anyone who does not wish to take the vaccine, he is offering rapid COVID-19 tests on-site by the state Department of Health.
“My job is to worry about everybody’s wellbeing, right? I’m worried about the health of the guys who are concerned about this, even if they’re not worried about their own health,” Coughlin says.
But Wirths says there is a bigger issue at play.
“We all take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and I don’t think it’s constitutionally allowed,” he says.
Republicans in the state Assembly and Senate plan to file a legal challenge to the new policy on Wednesday.
“If I wasn’t vaccinated, people would say, ‘That’s why he’s doing it.’ I am,” Wirths says.
Some Democratic leaders in Trenton say that they are baffled by the opposition.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.
At Monday’s COVID-19 briefing, acting New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan was asked if troopers who guard the State House and will be stationed at the entrances for Thursday’s voting session would arrest lawmakers who didn’t comply with the new policy.
"I would have a hard time envisioning troopers handcuffing anyone,” Callahan said. “But they do have the ability to refuse entry."
The state Constitution makes it extremely difficult to block lawmakers from the building, but Coughlin says that starting on Thursday, legislators who don't comply won't be let in the State House and will have to participate remotely.
"I don't know what I'm going to do yet, but I'm going to have a real, real difficult time showing my ID. You know I'll show my picture ID like we all do, but whether I'm vaccinated or not, I think that's a very dangerous and slippery road,” says Wirths.
The new policy was issued by the State Capitol Joint Management Commission. Republicans will raise separation of powers issues because the panel includes appointees of the governor.
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