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Johnson Bill to Improve Preservation & Promotion of State Historic Sites Advanced by Assembly Panel

Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson to streamline and improve the preservation and promotion of New Jersey’s historic sites was approved by the Assembly Tourism and Gaming Committee on Monday.

The bill (A-2764) would establish the Commission on State-owned Historic Sites in the Department of State and transfer administration of state-owned historic sites from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to the new commission.

“New Jersey has an enormously rich history, that has been preserved and promoted well by our various historical programs,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “However, these changes will help improve the preservation and promotion of our historic sites and serve taxpayers, tourists and history buffs in a more efficient manner.”

The bill was born out of a report from Gov. Christie’s transition team, which recommended consolidating all of the state’s historical programs within the Department of State to help establish stronger coordination between these groups and increase efficiency in staffing and support resources.

The 11-member commission would serve without compensation and 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, recommending programs and policies for the acquisition, development, use, improvement and extension of historic sites, including archeological sites; and developing a broad historic sites preservation program on a statewide and local basis to provide for the identification, authentication, protection, preservation, conservation, restoration, and management of all historic sites within the state.

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 also amends current law to provide that any references to the DEP would now refer to the Department of State since the 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 now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.