(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) to create a commission that would be responsible for the administration of all state-owned historic sites to ensure they are run more efficiently was released Monday by an Assembly Panel.
The bill (A-1407) would establish the Commission on State-owned Historic Sites in the Department of State and would transfer administration of state-owned historic sites from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to the new commission.
“New Jersey is rich in history. With heritage tourism such a big draw, it would be wise to have one entity solely dedicated to the administration of state-owned historic sites to ensure our historic sites are preserved and protected,” said Johnson. “This could not only help draw more tourism to the state, but ensure our history is preserved for future generations of New Jerseyans.”
The commission would consist of 11 members, as follows: the secretary of state or the secretary’s designee; the chair of the Historic Sites Council or the chair’s designee; the commissioner of environmental protection or the commissioner’s designee; and eight residents of the state, six appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, one appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of the Senate president, and one appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of the speaker of the General Assembly, with experience and expertise in historic preservation, historic interpretation, historic sites management, museum studies, artifact conservation, or public history. None of the public members would hold any elective or appointed public office or position in the Legislature. The members would serve without compensation but may be reimbursed for necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties.
The commission would be charged with the administration and operation of all historic sites owned by the state. The commission would also be charged with: (1) overseeing the New Jersey Office of Historic Sites and Historic Preservation Office; (2) consulting with and advising the Commissioner of Environmental Protection and the director of the Division of Parks and Forestry with respect to the work of the division; (3) providing advice on encroachments by the undertakings of state, county or municipal governments or any agency or instrumentality thereof on properties listed in the New Jersey Register; and (4) in consultation with the Historic Sites Council, (a) recommending programs and policies for the acquisition, development, use, improvement and extension of historic sites, including archeological 2 sites, and (b) developing a broad historic sites preservation program on a state-wide and local basis to provide for the identification, authentication, protection, preservation, conservation, restoration, and management of all historic sites in the state.
Upon the designation or appointment of a majority of the commission members, any state funds appropriated to the DEP or the Division of Parks and Forestry specifically for, or related to the administration of, historic sites owned or maintained by the state would be reallocated to the commission for the purposes of this bill.
The bill would also amend current law to provide that any references to the DEP would now refer to the Department of State, as this bill would transfer the historic preservation functions and the Historic Sites Council currently in the DEP to the Department of State. As a result of the transfer of historic preservation functions, the bill would further change the membership of the New Jersey Historic Trust, in the Department of Community Affairs, to include the Secretary of State instead of the Commissioner of Environmental Protection. The bill additionally amends current law to provide that the historic site tax exemption, certified to the Director of the Division of Taxation in the Department of the Treasury, would be made by the Secretary of State rather than the Commissioner of Environmental Protection.
The “Report of the Transition Subcommittee on the Department of State,” issued by Governor Christie’s transition team, recommends consideration of consolidating all of the State’s historical programs, i.e., the New Jersey Historic Trust in but not of the Department of Community Affairs, and the Historic Preservation Office and the Office of Historic Sites within the DEP, with the New Jersey Historical Commission in the Department of State to help establish stronger coordination between these groups, use other related divisions in the Department of State (such as the Division of Archives and Records Management and the Division of Travel and Tourism), and increase efficiency in staffing and support resources. This bill would accomplish part of that suggestion by transferring the historic preservation functions, including the Historic Sites Council and the Historic Preservation Office, currently in the DEP to the Department of State.
The bill was released by the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee.