New Jersey GOP Lawmakers Briefly Blocked From Assembly After Failing to Show Vax Proof

Several Republican members of the New Jersey Assembly who failed to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test were temporarily blocked from entering the chamber Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

The requirement to present vaccination proof or a negative test went into effect Thursday, and though uniformed state troopers prevented the GOP lawmakers from entering for about 10 minutes, the officers ultimately allowed them inside.

A voting session was scheduled to take place as a group of at least 10 Republicans approached the door. In the commotion and confusion that ensued, the troopers stationed at the door halted them and the lawmakers vehemently protested what they described as an affront to their rights.

"You have no right to stop us," Assemblymember Erik Peterson said.

"You see this? You see this, folks? Denying us entry into our house," Peterson said.

"This is America," Assemblymember Hal Wirths added.

A few of the Republican legislators were able to enter the chamber without showing proof of vaccination or a negative test after Assemblymember Brian Bergen questioned the troopers about why he couldn't enter the chamber, the AP reported. Another group of lawmakers who again did not show either of the entry requirements were able to enter unblocked moments later.

The state troopers did not explain why they had allowed the lawmakers to enter the chamber without presenting proof of vaccination or negative test, according to the AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

NJ GOP Members
New Jersey Assemblymember Brian Bergen, left, stands with fellow GOP Assemblymember Erik Peterson, right, who speaks and gestures toward New Jersey State troopers blocking GOP lawmakers from entering the Assembly chamber because they did not show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test on December 2 in Trenton, New Jersey. The requirement to present vaccination proof or a negative test before entering the New Jersey Assembly went into effect on December 2. Mike Catalini/AP Photo

An email seeking an explanation was sent to the state police.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin called it "a colossal failure of security" in a speech from the floor that chastised Republicans, saying that people throughout the state had made similar concessions throughout the pandemic.

"I'm outraged that in the midst of the sacrifice 28 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.

The display unfolded during the first voting session of the lame-duck period, the timeframe between November's election and the start of the new Legislature in January. It was also the first time lawmakers gathered to vote since the requirement that anyone entering the statehouse complex show a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination was implemented.

Tables with officials checking documents were set up at entrances around the complex, poster boards announcing the new policy stood on easels and state troopers milled around the building as well.

Some Republicans who flouted the rule said it was unenforceable and contended it ran afoul of the state constitution.

"It's unfair and completely discriminatory policy. They're essentially creating two classes of people, vaccinated and unvaccinated," Bergen said.

But others reluctantly abided by it. GOP state Senator Holly Schepisi offered her vaccination card to troopers stationed outside the Senate chambers.

"I know you're just doing your job," she said before calling the requirement a derogatory term.

Republicans are also seeking a court injunction against the requirement. The incoming leaders of the Assembly and Senate minority caucuses in the new sessions sued to block the order laid out in a November resolution from the joint commission.

"The policy set forth in the Resolution constitutes unprecedented overreach by a state agency," the lawsuit contended.

Kevin Drennan, the chair of the commission, declined through a spokesperson to comment on the suit.

Democratic Governor Phil Murphy has instituted similar requirements for state workers. On Monday, he decried the GOP's opposition to the statehouse rule as "reckless."

The disagreement comes as congressional Republicans opposed to President Joe Biden's vaccination rules in Congress are poised to stall a must-pass funding bill. The Biden administration has pursued vaccine requirements on several groups of workers, but the effort is facing one setback after another in legal cases.

NJ Assembly Chamber
Several Republican members of the New Jersey Assembly who did not show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 were temporarily blocked from entering the chamber Thursday. New Jersey Assembly members gather during a meeting in the state legislature on March 16, 2017, in Trenton, New Jersey. Julio Cortez/AP Photo