TRENTON – COVID-related protocols for entering the Statehouse complex will no longer require people to show they’re fully vaccinated or recently tested negative for the virus.

The new, loosened policy was adopted Tuesday by the State Capitol Joint Management Commission and takes effect Friday.

People will still be required to wear masks in public areas of the complex. But in addition to dropping the controversial vaccine-or-test rule, the new approach also ends the requirement that people have their temperature taken when entering the complex.

“The intent with this new policy is to recognize that cases are dropping, that the vast majority of people who enter the Statehouse have had access to a vaccine and a booster,” said Seth Hahn, director of the Assembly Democratic office and chairman of the commission.

“But still we have people who work here with children who don’t have developed immune systems, who are immunocompromised, and the CDC still recognizes that Mercer County has a high transmission rate and recommends mask-wearing,” Hahn said.

“We’re trying to get back to normal while still protecting the public health of people who are entering the Statehouse and who work here,” he said.

The change comes shortly ahead of Gov. Phil Murphy's budget introduction on March 8, which will be the first major speech delivered in traditional fashion at the Statehouse after nearly two years of addresses done outdoors or pre-recorded and issued through social media.

The policy was approved unanimously and without controversy or discussion, other than executive director Christine Shipley of the Senate Republican office noting that some supply deliveries had been having a tough time getting to the building because most entrances to the complex are blocked off.

“Maybe the barricades could be removed and the testing tent, just that we can make this place a little bit more welcoming again,” Shipley said.

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The relaxation of the rules stands in sharp contrast to their introduction three months ago, which led to a showdown at the Statehouse in which state troopers temporarily barred some Republicans from entering the Assembly chamber, after which those lawmakers defied the police and entered anyway.

At a subsequent voting session where lawmakers were forced to participate by phone if they didn’t adhere to the rules, some Republicans intentionally slowed the process to a crawl with repeated speeches on often innocuous bills.

Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, said masking should be left up to individuals, not mandatory. He said people have been safely unmasked in restaurants, stores and fitness centers and will be in schools starting March 7.

“While I’m pleased the commission dropped most of the rules, I’m disappointed they are clinging to the masking theater," Bergen said. "Let’s free our faces! Personally, I miss seeing Speaker (Craig) Coughlin’s smile.”

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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