Vaccine proof or negative COVID test soon required to enter N.J. Statehouse
The hubbub has to do with a 2015 law that governs how municipalities can sell their water supply and wastewater treatment systems. (Photo by Chris Boswell/Getty Images)
All lawmakers, aides, reporters, and visitors to the Statehouse in Trenton must show proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID test results to enter the building after a state commission approved the new mandate Tuesday morning.
The vaccine-or-test rule goes into effect Dec. 1, according to the measure passed by the State Capitol Joint Management Commission. After a brief discussion, the measure passed 5-2 along party lines.
The mandate is being enacted to “prevent the spread of COVID-19 (and) protect the health and safety of all members of the Legislature, employees, visitors to the State Capitol Complex and indoor workspaces” of the Statehouse, the resolution says.
Negative COVID test results must come from a PCR test conducted within the previous 72 hours.
All school tours are also subject to the requirements. Protesters rallying outside the building on Statehouse grounds are not required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test.
Masks will still be required in all public areas of the Statehouse.
The commission oversees the capitol complex, and is composed of eight members, four appointed by the Murphy administration, and one member each appointed by the Senate and Assembly caucuses of both parties.
Republicans have come out in full force against the measure. During the meeting, Christine Shipley, executive director of the Senate Republican office, said she is worried about the impact on public participation in the Statehouse, particularly with last-minute changes to committee meetings and voting lists.
New Jersey State Trooper Lt. Jaclyn Jiras also questioned whether this would add to the work of security officials who work at the entrances of the Statehouse, where visitors have their identification cards and bags checked. Kevin Drennan, the commission’s chairman, said the policy would only require security officers ask for a negative test result or a COVID vaccine card.
“They’re not making a health decision. They’re making a determination whether or not they have the appropriate documentation to enter the building,” said Drennan, who also serves as the executive director of the Senate Democratic office.
Mark Duffy, executive director of the Assembly Republican office, echoed Shipley’s concerns, which were also detailed in a letter signed by Republican state senators and sent to the state’s top two lawmakers, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex).
In the letter, the GOP lawmakers outline their “grave concerns” around the mandate, which would “severely limit access … to the legislative process.”
“We are extremely disappointed that the Senate and Assembly majority offices and the Murphy administration are working together to circumvent our existing policy and to impose draconian measures on Republican staff in the Statehouse, and others,” the letter reads.
The letter also says the testing option “is really no option at all.” The lawmakers point to Murphy’s delayed opening of state government offices due to hurdles implementing testing processes. Shipley also pointed to long delays at COVID-19 testing facilities.
This mandate is the latest in New Jersey, where some form of vaccine or testing regimen applies to all state workers, school employees, child care workers, and health care employees.
It’s unknown how many state lawmakers are vaccinated. More than 6 million New Jersey residents have been vaccinated, according to the state’s latest tally.
An earlier version of this story misstated the start date of the new vaccination policy for Statehouse visitors.
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