Showdown at the State House: Speaker Coughlin calls Republicans' action a 'political stunt'
It was a showdown at the State House in Trenton today, with Republican lawmakers balking at new COVID-19 entry rules.
At least 10 Republican legislators marched to the entrance of the Assembly chamber, unwilling to comply with a policy that they say is unconstitutional and that's under appeal by a judge.
Assemblyman Hal Wirths says, "Freedom and liberty's dying today, folks it's dying right here on the floor. We're the only thing standing between us and the constituents of New Jersey and trying to stand up for their freedoms and it's being blocked."
Speaker Craig Coughlin says the Democratic caucus came to Trenton to take care of the people's business and that the Republican caucus chose to care more about allowing an outbreak at the State House.
"In the midst of this sacrifice, the only thing that was asked of the legislators here today was to show that they weren't infected, to care about their colleagues and the people in the chamber," says Coughlin.
The Assembly eventually made into session after Republicans defied the mandates to get in the chamber.
Why have the leaders backed down? One reason: the state Constitution.
The state Constitution contains different protections for lawmakers if they want to enter the building and once they get inside.
The reason? State lawmakers are your elected representatives.
The state Constitution says a senator or member of the Assembly cannot be arrested coming to, from or inside the voting sessions for anything other than "treason and high misdemeanor."
That's why state troopers who control the entrances and exits to the building have not checked the status of the lawmakers -- arresting them would be unconstitutional, according to a legal opinion from the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services.
But the doors and the ones on the Senate side are controlled by the Democratic leaders, and the civilian sergeants at arms who work for the Senate president and Assembly speaker are checking vaccine status.
Visitors to the building have to comply with the policy or be denied access to the entirety of this building.