ASSEMBLY, No. 3884

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

214th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED MARCH 7, 2011

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblyman  JOHN F. MCKEON

District 27 (Essex)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Assemblywoman Jasey

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Creates Highlands Conservation Trust to preserve land in Highlands Region, and authorizes Highlands conservation license plate to raise revenue therefor.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act concerning the Highlands Region, creating the Highlands Conservation Trust, and supplementing Titles 13, 39, and 54 of the Revised Statutes.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    This act shall be known, and may be cited, as the "Highlands Conservation Trust Act."

 

     2.    As used in this act:

     "Board" means the board of trustees of the Highlands Conservation Trust established pursuant to section 4 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

     "Convey" means to sell, transfer, lease or donate land.

     "Governmental entity" means the federal government, the State, a bi-state agency, a county, or a municipality, or any political subdivision, department, authority, board, bureau, commission, or agency thereof; an independent authority; Rutgers, The State University, or any other public institution of higher education in the State; or the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council established pursuant to section 4 of P.L.2004, c.120 (C.13:20-4).

     "Highlands Region" means the same as that term is defined pursuant to section 7 of P.L.2004, c.120 (C.13:20-7).

     "Land" or "lands" means real property, including improvements thereof or thereon, rights-of-way, water, riparian and other rights, easements, and privileges, and all other rights and interests of any kind or description in, relating to, or connected with real property.

     "Trust" means the Highlands Conservation Trust created pursuant to section 3 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

 

     3.    There is created in but not of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, established pursuant to section 4 of P.L.2004, c.120 (C.13:20-4), a body corporate and politic with corporate succession, to be known as the Highlands Conservation Trust.  The trust is hereby constituted as an instrumentality exercising public and essential government functions and the exercise by the trust of the powers conferred by this act shall be deemed and held to be an essential government function of the State.  The purposes of the trust shall be to acquire and hold, or acquire and convey to other governmental entities or to qualified nonprofit organizations, environmentally important, valuable, or sensitive lands located in the New Jersey Highlands Region, which lands shall be permanently preserved and managed in their natural state or in a largely natural or undeveloped state for the purposes of (a) conserving and enhancing the exceptional natural resources of the Highlands Region, such as clean air, contiguous forest lands, wetlands, pristine watersheds, and habitat for fauna and flora, (b) preserving sites of historic significance, and (c) providing abundant passive recreational opportunities.

 

     4.    a.  The powers and duties of the trust shall vest in and be exercised by a board of trustees composed of seven voting members, of whom four shall be private citizens appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate.  The four trustees thus appointed shall serve for three-year terms and shall continue to serve until succeeded; except, of the four trustees first appointed, two shall serve a term of three years, one shall serve a term of two years, and one shall serve a term of one year.  A trustee may be reappointed to a succeeding term or terms.  The Governor shall appoint the four trustees from a list of 14 candidates that shall be provided by the following entities within 90 days after the effective date of this section:  Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions; Highlands Coalition; The Nature Conservancy; New Jersey Audubon Society; New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club; New Jersey Conservation Foundation; and The Trust for Public Land.  Each of those seven entities shall provide two nominees for the list of 14 candidates.  In the event that less than 14 candidates are provided by those seven entities, persons suggested to the Governor by other nonprofit organizations having open space preservation or environmental education as their corporate purpose shall be added to the list to make a total of 14 candidates to be considered by the Governor for the four appointments.

     The remaining three trustees, all of whom shall serve ex officio, shall be:  the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection or the commissioner's designee; the executive director of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council, or the executive director's designee; and a mayor, or elected chief executive, of a municipality in the preservation area of the Highlands Region, as defined pursuant to subsection b. of section 7 of P.L.2004, c.120 (C.13:20-7), appointed by the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council.

     b.    (1) A trustee may be removed for cause by the appropriate appointing authority.

     (2)   A vacancy on the board shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointment was made.

     (3)   The trustees shall serve without compensation, but may be reimbursed for all reasonable expenses necessarily incurred in the discharge of their official duties.

     (4)   A majority of the full membership of the board shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.

     Action may be taken and motions and resolutions adopted by the board at any meeting thereof by the affirmative vote of a majority of the full membership of the board.

     (5)   The trustees shall elect a chairperson and a vice-chairperson from the members of the board.

     (6)   The board shall meet regularly as it may determine, and shall also meet at the call of the chairperson of the board or the Governor. Meetings of the board shall be subject to the “Senator Byron M. Baer Open Public Meetings Act,” P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-6 et seq.).

 

     5.    The Highlands Conservation Trust shall have the power to:

     a.     Sue and be sued in its own name;

     b.    Adopt a seal and alter it at pleasure;

     c.     Adopt bylaws for the regulation of its affairs and the conduct of its business, and adopt rules and regulations pursuant to the "Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.) as necessary to implement this act;

     d.    Maintain an office or offices at such place or places within the State as it may designate;

     e.     Appoint such officers, who need not be trustees, in addition to a secretary and a treasurer, as the trust shall deem advisable, to establish advisory groups, and to employ such other employees, consultants, and agents, including an executive director, as may be necessary or desirable in its judgment, to fix their compensation, and to promote and discharge such officers, employees, consultants, and agents, all without regard to the provisions of Title 11A, Civil Service, of the New Jersey Statutes;

     f.     Authorize, if deemed useful, the establishment by appropriate persons or organizations of a nonprofit organization or organizations exempt from taxation pursuant to section 501(c)(3) of the federal Internal Revenue Code of 1986, 26 U.S.C. s.501(c)(3), for the purposes of assisting the trust in furthering the purposes of the trust as set forth in this act;

     g.     Cooperate with and assist, insofar as practicable, any governmental entity or any private entity or person in furtherance of the purposes of the trust;

     h.     Call to its assistance and avail itself of the services of such employees of any governmental entity as it may require and as may be available to it for the purpose of exercising its powers and performing its duties under this act;

     i.      Incur such traveling and other miscellaneous expenses as it may deem necessary in the exercise of its powers and the performance of its duties under this act, and as may be within the limits of funds appropriated or otherwise made available to it for those purposes;

     j.     Acquire in the name of the trust, hold, and dispose of personal property in the exercise of its powers and the performance of its duties under this act;

     k.    Make, enter into, and perform all contracts and agreements necessary or incidental to the exercise of its powers and the performance of its duties under this act.  No contract on behalf of the trust shall be entered into for the doing of any work, or for the hiring of equipment or vehicles, if the sum to be expended exceeds the appropriate amount set forth in, or the amount calculated by the Governor pursuant to, section 2 of P.L.1954, c.48 (C.52:34-7), unless the trust first publicly advertises for bids therefor, and awards the contract to the lowest responsible, qualified bidder; but advertising is not required if the contract to be entered into is one for furnishing or performing services of a professional nature, if there is only one source for the product or service being procured, or if the product or service is supplied or rendered by a public utility subject to the jurisdiction of the Board of Public Utilities, and tariffs and schedules of the charges made, charged, or exacted by the public utility for such products to be supplied or services to be rendered are filed with the Board of Public Utilities.  The provisions of this subsection shall not prevent the trust from having any work done by its own employees, nor does it apply to repairs, or to the furnishing of materials, supplies or labor, or the hiring of equipment or vehicles, when the safety or protection of its or other public property or the public convenience requires, or the exigency of the circumstances will not admit of such advertisement.  In such case the trust shall, by resolution passed by the affirmative vote of a majority of the trustees in attendance, declare the exigency or emergency to exist, and set forth in the resolution the nature thereof and the approximate amount to be expended;

     l.      Apply for and accept any grant or aid, whether from a governmental entity, a nonprofit organization, a foundation or trust, or any other public or private source, that might be or may become available for programs in furtherance of the purposes of the trust, to subscribe to and comply with any rule or regulation with respect to the application of the grant or aid, and to enter into and perform any contract or agreement with respect to the application of the grant or aid;

     m.    Solicit and accept gifts, donations, legacies, bequests, and endowments, including but not limited to land, money, securities, or other property of value from public or private sources, to enable the trust to acquire and hold or convey land for any purpose which falls within those of the trust; and, unless otherwise specified by the person making such a gift, donation, legacy, bequest, or endowment of money or securities, to invest it in whole or in part as provided in section 6 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill);

     n.     Solicit and accept rents or royalties, if appropriate, and apply them to furthering the purposes of the trust;

     o.    Apply all moneys, assets, property, or other things of value it may receive as an incident to its operation to furthering the purposes of the trust;

     p.    Plan and implement strategies to maximize land acquisition and preservation and environmental enhancement in the Highlands Region in keeping with the purposes of the trust;

     q.    Acquire and hold, or acquire and convey to other governmental entities, including but not limited to the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust created pursuant to P.L.1968, c.425 (C.13:1B-15.119 et seq.), or to qualified nonprofit organizations, environmentally important, valuable, or sensitive lands located in the Highlands Region; and to preserve and manage those lands in their natural state or in a largely natural or undeveloped state for the purposes of (1) conserving and enhancing the exceptional natural resources of the Highlands Region, such as clean air, contiguous forest lands, wetlands, pristine watersheds, and habitat for fauna and flora, (2) preserving sites of historic significance, and (3) providing abundant passive recreational opportunities;

     r.     Establish a special working relationship with the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council established pursuant to section 4 of P.L.2004, c.120 (C.13:20-4) in furthering the purposes of the trust;

     s.     Establish incentive programs to encourage landowners within the Highlands Region to (1) convey land to the trust or to other public or private entities seeking to preserve land in keeping with the purposes of the trust, or (2) manage their lands in keeping with the purposes of the trust;

     t.     Establish a volunteer stewardship program, and take all reasonable action necessary for management and maintenance of trust property;

     u.     Procure insurance against any losses in connection with its property, operations, or assets, in such amounts and from such insurers as it deems desirable;

     v.     Exercise its powers and perform its duties as required pursuant to sections 9 through 14 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) pertaining to the issuance of Highlands conservation license plates when they become available; and

     w.    Do all acts and things necessary or convenient to exercising its powers and performing its duties under this act in furthering the purposes of the trust.

 

     6.    a.  There is established in the Highlands Conservation Trust a trust fund, to be known as the "Highlands Conservation Trust Fund," and the moneys therein are to be held in those depositories as the State Treasurer may select.  The State Treasurer shall deposit into the trust fund all moneys:  (1) received as a grant or other form of aid by the trust or by the State and designated for the trust; (2) given, donated, bequeathed, or endowed to the trust from public or private sources; (3) received as rent or as a royalty by the trust or by the State on behalf of the trust; (4) received as net revenues from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission in connection with the issuance of Highlands conservation license plates as provided pursuant to sections 9 through 14 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill); and (5) appropriated or otherwise made available to the trust by the State.  The moneys in the trust fund are specifically dedicated and shall be utilized only for the purposes of the trust as set forth in this act.  Such grants, contributions, donations, and reimbursements from federal aid programs as may be lawfully used for the purposes of the trust as set forth in this act shall also be held in the trust fund.  Moneys in the trust fund shall not be expended except in accordance with appropriations from the trust fund made by law.  Any act appropriating moneys from the trust fund to acquire land shall identify the particular project or projects to be funded by the moneys, and any expenditure for a land acquisition project for which the location is not identified by municipality and county in the appropriation shall require the approval of the Joint Budget Oversight Committee or its successor.  Pending their application to the purposes set forth in this act, the moneys in the trust fund shall be invested and reinvested as are trust funds in the custody of the State Treasurer, in the manner provided by law.  Net earnings received from the investment or deposit of moneys in the trust fund shall be re-deposited therein and become part of the trust fund to be used only for the purposes of the trust.

     b.    (1) No moneys in the Highlands Conservation Trust Fund shall be utilized for the development of any land for any purpose or for the acquisition of land that will not remain in a natural or largely natural or undeveloped state, except that up to 8% of the moneys annually received and deposited into the trust fund may be utilized to pay for development of sites to allow for land stewardship, public access, environmental education and interpretation, and for the development of trails, and up to 2% of the moneys annually received and deposited into the trust fund may be utilized to pay for promotional and program awareness efforts.

     (2)   No moneys in the trust fund shall be utilized to pay or discharge the principal of or interest on any indebtedness incurred for any purpose by the trust or any other governmental entity.

     c.     Notwithstanding any law, rule, or regulation to the contrary, any proceeds returned to the trust or the State from the conveyance of lands acquired by the trust with moneys from the "Highlands Conservation Trust Fund" or from other sources shall be re-deposited therein and become part of the trust fund to be used only for the purposes of the trust.

 

     7.    The trustees may request, and upon such request shall receive, from the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, all legal counsel and services necessary to further the purposes of the trust.


     8.    The trust shall report annually to the Governor and, pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1991, c.164 (C.52:14-19.1), to the Legislature as to its activities during the preceding year, together with any recommendations or requests the trustees deem appropriate to further the purposes of the trust.

 

     9.    The Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission shall, upon proper application therefor, issue Highlands conservation license plates for any motor vehicle owned or leased and registered in the State.  In addition to the registration number and other markings or identification otherwise prescribed by law, a Highlands conservation license plate shall display words or a slogan and an emblem indicating support for, or an interest in, conservation of the New Jersey Highlands Region.  The words or slogan and emblem shall be chosen by the chief administrator; however, the chief administrator shall solicit, in conjunction with the Legislature, input on the design of the plate from the general public and from the board of trustees of the Highlands Conservation Trust created pursuant to section 4 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), and shall review the submissions prior to choosing the design.  Issuance of Highlands conservation license plates in accordance with this section shall be subject to the provisions of chapter 3 of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes, except as hereinafter otherwise specifically provided.

 

     10.  a.  Application for issuance of a Highlands conservation license plate shall be made to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission on forms and in a manner as may be prescribed by the chief administrator.  In order to be deemed complete, an application shall be accompanied by a fee of $50 payable to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, which fee shall be in addition to all fees otherwise required by law for the registration of the motor vehicle.

     b.    The annual fee for the registration certificate of a motor vehicle that has been issued a Highlands conservation license plate pursuant to the provisions of sections 9 through 14 of P.L.    c.    , (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) shall include in each year subsequent to the year of issuance a fee in the amount of $10, which fee shall be in addition to all fees otherwise required by law for the renewal of the registration of the motor vehicle, and shall be collected by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and deposited into the Highlands Conservation Trust Fund created pursuant to section 6 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

 

     11.  There shall be deposited in the Highlands Conservation Trust Fund created pursuant to section 6 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) the amount collected from all license plate fees collected pursuant to section 10 of                P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), less the amounts necessary to reimburse the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission for all costs authorized pursuant to section 12 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

 

     12.  a.  Prior to the deposit of license plate fees collected pursuant to section 10 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) into the Highlands Conservation Trust Fund created pursuant to section 6 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), amounts thereof as are necessary shall be used to reimburse the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission for all costs reasonably and actually incurred, as stipulated by the chief administrator, for:

     (1)   producing, issuing, renewing, and publicizing the availability of Highlands conservation license plates; and

     (2)   from the initial fees, any initial computer programming changes that may be necessary to implement the Highlands conservation license plate program established pursuant to sections 9 through 14 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

     b.    The Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission shall annually certify to the board of trustees of the Highlands Conservation Trust created pursuant to section 4 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) the average cost per license plate incurred in the immediately preceding year by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission in producing, issuing, renewing, and publicizing the availability of Highlands conservation license plates.  The annual certification of the average cost per license plate shall be approved by the Joint Budget Oversight Committee, or its successor.

     c.     In the event that the average cost per license plate as certified by the chief administrator and approved by the Joint Budget Oversight Committee, or its successor, is greater than the $50 application fee established in subsection a. of section 10 of           P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) in two consecutive fiscal years, the chief administrator may discontinue the issuance of Highlands conservation license plates.

 

     13.  The Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission shall notify eligible motorists of the opportunity to obtain Highlands conservation license plates by including a notice with all motor vehicle registration renewals, and by posting appropriate posters or signs in all facilities and offices of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.  The notices, posters, and signs shall be designed by the chief administrator in consultation with the board of trustees of the Highlands Conservation Trust created pursuant to section 4 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

 

     14.  The board of trustees of the Highlands Conservation Trust created pursuant to section 4 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill), the Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, and the State Treasurer shall develop and enter into an interagency memorandum of agreement setting forth the procedures to be followed by those parties in carrying out their respective responsibilities under sections 9 through 14 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill).

 

     15.  Notwithstanding any law, rule, or regulation to the contrary, real property acquired by the Highlands Conservation Trust created pursuant to section 3 of P.L.    , c.    (C.        ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) or pursuant to purchase, conveyance, bequest, exchange, donation, acceptance, or otherwise shall become exempt from taxation and the payment of any in lieu of tax obligation as of the date of acquisition by the trust.  If, at the time of acquisition by the trust, the prior owner has paid the taxes or any in lieu of tax obligation for the current tax year in full or for a period beyond the date of acquisition by the trust, the prior owner shall be entitled to a prorated refund from the taxing authority of the taxes or in lieu of tax obligations paid by the prior owner for the remaining portion of the tax year beyond the date of acquisition by the trust.  If insufficient or no taxes, or insufficient or no in lieu of tax obligations, shall have been paid by the prior owner for the portion of the tax year prior to acquisition by the trust, the prior owner shall pay the amount due for that period to the appropriate taxing authority.

 

     16.  Sections 1 through 8 and 15 of this act shall take effect immediately and sections 9 through 14 of this act shall take effect on the 180th day after the date of enactment, but the State Treasurer, the Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, and the board of trustees of the Highlands Conservation Trust, created pursuant to section 4 of this act, may take such anticipatory acts in advance of the 180th day after the date of enactment as may be necessary for the timely implementation of sections 9 through 14 of this act upon the effective date thereof.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill would create the Highlands Conservation Trust in but not of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council.  The purposes of the trust would be to acquire and hold, or acquire and convey to other governmental entities or to qualified nonprofit organizations, environmentally important, valuable, or sensitive lands located in the New Jersey Highlands Region.  These lands would be permanently preserved and managed in their natural state or in a largely natural or undeveloped state for the purposes of (1) conserving and enhancing the exceptional natural resources of the Highlands Region, such as clean air, contiguous forest lands, wetlands, pristine watersheds, and habitat for fauna and flora, (2) preserving sites of historic significance, and (3) providing abundant passive recreational opportunities.  Any lands acquired by the trust would become exempt from taxation and the payment of any in lieu of tax obligation upon the date of acquisition.

     The trust would be administered by a seven-member board of trustees comprising:  four private citizens appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate; the Commissioner of Environmental Protection; the executive director of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council; and a mayor, or elected chief executive, of a municipality in the Highlands preservation area appointed by the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council.

     The trust would be empowered to, among other things:

     (1) plan and implement strategies to maximize land acquisition and preservation and environmental enhancement in the Highlands Region in keeping with the purposes of the trust;

     (2) acquire and hold, or acquire and convey to other governmental entities, including but not limited to the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust, or to qualified nonprofit organizations, environmentally important, valuable, or sensitive lands located in the Highlands Region; and to preserve and manage those lands in their natural state or in a largely natural or undeveloped state for the purposes of conserving and enhancing the exceptional natural resources of the Highlands Region, such as clean air, contiguous forest lands, wetlands, pristine watersheds, and habitat for fauna and flora, preserving sites of historic significance, and providing abundant passive recreational opportunities;

     (3) establish a special working relationship with the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council in furthering the purposes of the trust;

     (4) apply for and accept grants and other aid; solicit and accept gifts, donations, legacies, bequests, and endowments; and solicit and accept rents or royalties, all to be used for the purposes of the trust;

     (5) if deemed useful, authorize establishment by appropriate persons or organizations of a tax-exempt nonprofit organization or organizations for the purposes of assisting the trust; and

     (6) establish incentive programs to encourage landowners within the Highlands Region to (a) convey land to the trust or to other public or private entities seeking to preserve land in keeping with the purposes of the trust, or (b) manage their lands in keeping with the purposes of the trust.

     The bill would also establish the "Highlands Conservation Trust Fund."  The trust fund would be the depository for all moneys:  (1) received as a grant or other form of aid by the trust or by the State and designated for the trust; (2) given, donated, bequeathed, or endowed to the trust from public or private sources; (3) received as rent or as a royalty by the trust or by the State on behalf of the trust; (4) received as net revenues from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission in connection with the issuance of Highlands conservation license plates as authorized by the bill; and (5) appropriated or otherwise made available to the trust by the State. 

     The moneys in the trust fund would be specifically dedicated to be used only for the purposes of the trust.  No moneys in the trust fund could be utilized for the development of any land for any purpose or for the acquisition of land that will not remain in a natural or largely natural or undeveloped state, except that up to 8% of the moneys annually received and deposited into the trust fund could be used to pay for development of sites to allow for public access and environmental education and interpretation and for the development of trails, and up to 2% of the moneys annually received and deposited into the trust fund could be used to pay for promotional and program awareness efforts.  No moneys in the trust fund could be used to pay or discharge the principal of or interest on any indebtedness incurred for any purpose by the trust or any other governmental entity.