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.
The ruling doesn’t look likely to be the final word on the matter, as the judge also set an April 2022 hearing date to consider arguments. The requirement was still firmly in effect at the statehouse this week.
The GOP challenge, brought by incoming Republican legislative leaders Assembly member John DiMaio and Sen. Steven Oroho, sought to block a mandate for proof of vaccination or a negative test set by a joint commission that manages the statehouse complex.
But, as the judge noted in her order, 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,’’ Appellate Division Judge Allison 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,” he said. “It’s about ensuring the rights of citizens to have access to their government,’’ he said.
The judge’s order follows confusion last week when roughly a dozen Republican Assembly members sought to enter the voting chamber without showing the required proof or test. State police initially blocked them, but eventually permitted them to enter. No explanation has been given.
Since then, security around the statehouse to implement the vaccine-or-test requirement has increased substantially, with troopers setting up checkpoints at entryways across the complex.
It’s unclear what Republicans who oppose the order will do Monday when committee hearings are set to resume in person in the Assembly. A voting session set for Dec. 16 has been moved to Dec. 20.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy lashed out at Republicans this week over their defiance of the requirement, calling it ``idiocy.`` But he declined to explain why troopers permitted lawmakers who did not follow the requirement into the Assembly chamber.
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.