Republican state lawmakers plan to go to court as they fight the COVID-19 health protocols going into effect Dec. 1 that could force New Jersey State Troopers to deny them access to the Statehouse.
State Senators will reportedly file a lawsuit to have the decision by the State Capitol Joint Management Commission to require all persons who wish to enter the Legislative State House, State House Annex and/or Legislative Staff Building on committee days, voting sessions, quorum calls, and for any other meetings or gatherings be fully vaccinated or subject to testing.
The expected move from the members of the upper chamber comes after GOP Assembly members agreed in a virtual meeting on Nov. 24 that if their colleagues are blocked from entering the statehouse, none of them would participate in the next voting session set for Dec. 2.
State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-26) criticized the commission for essentially requiring vaccine passports, which he argued violates personal freedoms.
“This commission—comprised of appointees, not elected representatives—is telling the Legislature and the public that they can’t enter the People’s House,” said Pennacchio. “This edict violates the State Constitution which protects the Legislature from outside interference. Rules that govern the Legislature should come from the Legislature itself, not an unelected body.”
The new protocols require that all those entering the buildings must show ID and proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test conducted within the previous 72 hours. The policy would apply to elected lawmakers voting in person, all legislative staff members, reporters covering events, and anyone visiting the Statehouse, including those who want to speak at a hearing or protest a bill inside the building.
Besides vaccines and testing, the commission requires masks be worn by everyone in the State Capitol Complex in public areas. For Senate and Assembly galleries, capacity will be limited to 1/3 of the seats and every other chair in committee shall not be used.
When asked about the subject at a press briefing Nov. 29, Gov. Phil Murphy was supportive of the decision taken by the commission and legislative leadership and took exception to the notion the protocols were a mandate as described by Republicans.
Lawmakers in Handcuffs?
“This is not just you need to be vaccinated or show proof of a negative test,” said the governor. “It’s actually got rapid tests at the Statehouse, so there’s no burden whatsoever on anybody outside of that.”
When questioned if State Troopers would arrest lawmakers who were in non-compliance, State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan said “I have a hard time envisioning troopers handcuffing anyone…but I do think they’d have the ability to refuse entry for those men and women. It’s certainly something I would consult with the Attorney General’s office on and would certainly do that if that issue arises.”
It’s an “awkward” situation that incoming State Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-24) told PoliticoNJ he would look to avoid. Oroho was confident a court would find the commission’s mandate unconstitutional.
“Our members are going to go in—in whatever form they feel comfortable with—and make sure they do their jobs.” Oroho said. “It depends on what the courts say. I think it’s pretty clear in the Constitution that a legislator cannot be stopped. But at the same time we also don’t want our law enforcement to have all kinds of pressures put on them, to be put in that kind of awkward situation.”
Pennacchio argued the protocols are based more on politics than medical science.
“They failed to factor in natural immunity, which has shown to be equal to, if not more effective than vaccines,” Pennacchio claimed. “People can go to a liquor store or casino, stand in line in a shopping area, and pack into a stadium to watch a football game without proof of vaccination, but they will be blocked from watching their elected representatives in Trenton…It doesn’t make sense. This isn’t the way the New Jersey State Government is supposed to be run.”
But Murphy was not having any of the arguments being put forth with new cases and hospitalizations rising and concerns about a new variant.
“Come on, man. Let’s not play politics,” said Murphy. “I think anybody who is messing with this is being completely reckless. Looking at the numbers, they’re going up. This is about keeping people safe and healthy. Let’s stop playing politics for something that is not intended.”
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,645,680 in-state, plus an additional 512,282 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 14,157,962 as of Nov. 30. The total includes 113,982 between the ages of 5-11 who have received the vaccine.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 5,970,705 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 220,474 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,191,179. State officials reported boosters and third shots of 686,182 for Pfizer and 556,236 for Moderna. A total of 24,740 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 1,267,158 have received a booster or third shot.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 1,510,911 doses (657,541 fully vaccinated), Essex 1,192,581 doses (522,642), Hudson 1,046,845 doses (467,809), Morris 824,526 doses (354,596), Passaic 718,798 doses (322,891), Sussex 194,130 doses (85,898), and Warren 127,592 doses (55,852).
As of Nov. 30, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,086,722 with 2,352 total new PCR cases. There were 1,013 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 165,983. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,252,705.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 42 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 25,563. The state listed probable deaths at 2,827, bringing the overall total to 28,390. State officials noted six deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Nov. 30, Bergen had a total of 228 new confirmed cases and 68 new probable cases, Essex 141 new cases and 34 new probable case, Hudson 131 new cases and 19 new probable cases, Morris 147 new confirmed cases and 66 new probable cases, Passaic 150 new cases and 46 new probable cases, Sussex 57 new cases and 59 new probable cases, and Warren 66 new cases and 15 new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,869, followed by Bergen at 2,708, Hudson with 2,185, Passaic at 1,828, Morris at 1,053, Sussex at 283, and Warren County at 235.
In regards to probable deaths reported Nov. 29, Bergen has 311, Essex has 310, Morris has 267, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 207, Sussex has 71 and Warren has 26.
Of the 5,876,552 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Nov. 15, 54,260 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated, resulting in 1,160 COVID-related hospitalizations and 314 COVID-related deaths. All those are less than 1% in each category.
In the week of Nov. 8-14, breakthroughs accounted for 25.7% of all new cases (3,116 of 12,138), 0.4% of new hospilizations (16 of 602), and 1 of the 85 deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Nov. 29, it declined to 1.18 from 1.20 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Nov. 25 was 9.2%; by region, the rate was 9.1% in the North, 9.9% in the Central region and 8.6% in the South.
The state reported 1,046 patients were hospitalized with 70 of the state’s 71 hospitals reporting, the first time above 900 since Oct. 5. By region, there were 379 in the North, 377 in the Central and 290 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 195 are in intensive care units and 105 on ventilators. A total of 85 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.
In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions as of Nov. 30, the state has tracked 217 school outbreaks and 1,172 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 23 outbreaks and 87 cases from the week previous.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey in the new report, Passaic County has eight confirmed outbreak with 102 cases, Bergen County has 22 confirmed outbreak with 93 cases, Morris County has 13 confirmed outbreaks with 74 cases, Sussex has 17 confirmed outbreak with 66 cases, Essex County has nine confirmed outbreak with 38 cases and Hudson County has 10 confirmed outbreaks with 34 cases. No outbreaks were reported in Warren County.
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 85.3% overall. In North Jersey counties, Bergen is tops at 90.5%, followed by Passaic at 88.1%, Warren at 87.4%, Morris at 87.3%, Sussex at 84.9%, Essex at 81.8%, and Hudson at 79.1%, tied for lowest in the state.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 125 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,205 of the cases, broken down between 627 residents and 578 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,857 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 34,206 residents and 23,404 staff, for a total of 57,610.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,698 on Nov. 30. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,021 residents deaths and 145 staff deaths.