Judge Says Mandate of Vaccine Proof or Negative Test to Enter NJ Statehouse Will Stay

An appeals court judge in New Jersey denied a request from Republican legislators to remove the current requirements of proof of a COVID vaccine or a negative test to enter the statehouse, in a decision announced Friday.

The mandate was created last week by a joint commission that manages the statehouse, and the request to halt the requirements was brought by two incoming Republicans, Assemblymember John DiMaio and Sen. Steve Oroho.

Last week, about a dozen Republican Assembly members arrived for the first voting session since the requirements were put in place. The group tried to enter without showing proof of vaccination or taking a COVID test and were stopped by state troopers, but after a few minutes of conversation, the group was allowed to enter.

State police and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy sidestepped questions about why the legislators were allowed to avoid the requirements, as Murphy called the move a display of "idiocy" by the group.

During the ensuing session, Democratic Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said it represented a "colossal failure of security," and said Republicans were avoiding measures similar to what everyday Americans are going through to work or do certain activities in public.

"Twenty-eight members of the minority caucus could not be bothered to exhibit common decency and humanity all because they would rather have a couple of minutes on TV news," Coughlin said.

Appellate Division Judge Allison Accurso set a hearing date in April to hear arguments on the mandate, which has been more strictly enforced following the first incident with Republican lawmakers.

The next test for how the mandate will be enforced are committee meetings that are scheduled to take place Monday.

New Jersey Statehouse, Vaccine Requirement, Republicans
Signs requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination are shown posted outside committee rooms at the statehouse, Dec. 3, 2021, in Trenton, N.J. A New Jersey judge denied a Republican request to halt a requirement to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test to enter the statehouse building. Mike Catalini/Associated Press File

The requirement was still firmly in effect at the statehouse this week.

But, as the judge noted in her order Friday, the Democratic leaders who run the statehouse have declared separate but similar COVID-19 rules, which the Republican suit did not challenge.

"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," Accurso wrote.

Oroho said in a statement he was "disappointed that arguments are going to be delayed when it seems clear" the commission went beyond its authority.

"This isn't just about legislators, it's about ensuring the rights of citizens to have access to their government," he said.

A voting session set for Dec. 16 has been moved to Dec. 20.

Friday's order follows an earlier court order that permitted the GOP challenge to advance. Republicans had hailed it as a victory at the time, though the new ruling amounts to a setback.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

New Jersey Statehouse, Vaccine Requirement, Republicans
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, standing by the flag at a podium, addresses a gathering as he unveils his 2019 budget in the Assembly chamber of the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J., March 13, 2018. A New Jersey judge denied a Republican request to halt a requirement to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test to enter the statehouse building Friday. Mel Evans/Associated Press File