In Brief

Republican suit over Statehouse vaccine rules won’t be heard until April

By: - December 10, 2021 3:36 pm

Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Hunterdon) speaking to the media about the Statehouse’s vaccination policy on Dec. 2. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

A Republican lawsuit against the Statehouse’s new vaccine rules won’t be heard until next year, according to a scheduling order filed Friday.

Incoming minority leaders Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-Warren) and Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Sussex) last week filed a suit against rules requiring legislators, staff, and visitors be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit proof of a negative test to gain entry to the Capitol.

The policy allows lawmakers to cast votes remotely if they do not wish to comply.

The Superior Court’s Appellate Division will hear the case during the week of April 11, 2022, though no specific date has been set for the hearing. Briefs from both sides are due in January.

The policy caused a stir at the Statehouse last week after some Assembly Republicans confronted New Jersey State Police troopers when they initially denied the lawmakers entry.

The Republicans, who decried the rules imposed by the State Capitol Joint Commission as “tyranny,” eventually forced their way past the troopers, who did not physically bar their entry.

Appellate Court Judge Allison Accurso declined to temporarily block the statehouse’s vaccine policy Friday, citing a nearly identical policy enacted by Democratic legislative leaders last week.

“As the rules issued by the Legislature’s presiding officers on December 2, 2021, make clear any stay issued by the court will not provide plaintiffs interim relief, the motion for stay is denied,” she wrote.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) chastised the lower-chamber Republicans for engaging in “political theater.” Senate Republicans complied with the policy but spoke against it from the floor of their chamber.

The Assembly returned to holding its committee meetings remotely this week — Assembly committees are set to meet in person on Monday — and state police this week barred most entrances to the Statehouse, with entry restricted to the Statehouse annex’s front courtyard door.

It’s not clear whether Assembly Republicans will renew protests against the policy on Monday, though at least some do not plan to. Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said his caucus is “mixed” on the policy

“I’m happy to show my vaccination cards, and I’m going to let the Supreme Court decide whether you can stop legislators. I’d be interested in seeing what they say, but in the meantime, I’m going to comply with the regulation,” Bramnick said.

Gov. Phil Murphy declined Wednesday to answer questions about what troopers plan to do Monday if Republican lawmakers again refuse to comply with the policy and he excoriated Republicans who entered the Assembly chamber last week, saying “the idiocy of these ringleaders” is putting their colleagues’ health at risk.

“This is not about freedom or civil rights,” Murphy said. “It’s about their willingness to volitionally run the risk of infecting innocent law-abiding folks who have done the right thing during this pandemic. It is outrageous, absolutely outrageous, incredibly irresponsible, unforgivable.”


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.