SENATE, No. 1151

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

217th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED FEBRUARY 8, 2016

 


 

Sponsored by:

Senator  CHRISTOPHER "KIP" BATEMAN

District 16 (Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset)

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Requires DEP to establish “private wildlife habitat certification program”; creates affirmative defense against municipal nuisance ordinances for properties certified under the program.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act concerning the creation of private wildlife habitat and municipal nuisance ordinances and supplementing Title 13 of the Revised Statutes.

 

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

 

     1.  As used in this act:

     “Certifying entity” means a nonprofit conservation organization, a for-profit landscaping company, or any other private entity, provided that the commissioner has determined that the entity possesses the appropriate expertise, qualifications, and resources to assess whether a property satisfies the standards and criteria established for purposes of certifying a property as a “certified private wildlife habitat” pursuant to section 2 of this act.

     “Commissioner” means the Commissioner of Environmental Protection.

 

     2.  a.  The Commissioner of Environmental Protection shall establish a private wildlife habitat certification program. In establishing the program, the commissioner may consider any standards used by recognized conservation organizations for purposes of certifying properties as suitable wildlife habitat. 

     b.    The commissioner shall adopt, pursuant to the "Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), rules and regulations necessary to implement the program, including but not limited to, rules and regulations that:

     (1)   establish standards and procedures for the physical inspection and certification of a property as "certified private wildlife habitat";

     (2)   identify one or more certifying entities which shall be authorized to physically inspect and certify that a property is a “certified private wildlife habitat,” and provide that the certifying entities may charge fees to cover reasonable costs associated with the inspection and certification process; and

     (3)   promote the substantial use of native plants.

     c.     The commissioner shall maintain a list of all certifying entities identified pursuant to paragraph (2) of subsection b. of this section and shall publish the list on the department's Internet website.

 

     3.    A certifying entity shall issue to the owner of each property that applies and qualifies for certification as a "certified private wildlife habitat” a certificate of registration to be filed by the property owner with the municipality in which the property is located pursuant to the provisions of section 4 of this act, and a sign designating the property as a “certified private wildlife habitat,” which may be posted on the property by the owner.

     4.  a.  Prior to altering a property for purposes of establishing a “certified private wildlife habitat,” a property owner shall obtain from a certifying entity a certificate of registration designating the property as a “certified private wildlife habitat” and file the certificate of registration with the municipal clerk of the municipality in which the property is located.  The municipal clerk may charge a fee not to exceed $25 for each certificate of registration filed with the clerk.

     b.  (1)  A certificate of registration shall expire two years after the issue date thereof, provided, however, a property owner may renew the certificate of registration one time prior to its expiration for an additional two years by submitting to the municipality a written and signed certification that the property:

     (a)  continues to comply with all applicable standards and criteria for the certification of the property as a “certified private wildlife habitat”; and

     (b)  remains substantially unaltered or has been improved since the time the initial certificate of registration was issued.

     (2)  The municipal clerk may charge a fee not to exceed $25 for the renewal of a certificate of registration pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection.

     c.  Upon the expiration of a certificate of registration, a person may apply for a new certificate of registration, which shall be issued subject to all the standards, procedures, and requirements established in this act, and any rules or regulations adopted pursuant thereto, including a new physical inspection and new certification of the property by a certifying entity.

 

     5.  A person who files and maintains an unexpired certificate of registration with a municipality in compliance with the provisions of this act, and the rules and regulations adopted pursuant thereto, shall be entitled to an affirmative defense against any liability for a violation of a municipal ordinance under which the “certified private wildlife habitat,” or any component thereof, is deemed, or would be deemed, a nuisance or an otherwise unlawful condition.  The person shall be entitled to this affirmative defense from the time of filing the notice of intent to alter the property, provided that a certificate of registration is filed within 60 days thereafter pursuant to section 4 of this act.

 

     6.  This act shall take effect immediately.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill would direct the Commissioner of Environmental Protection to establish a private wildlife habitat certification program.  In establishing the program, the commissioner would be authorized to consider any standards used by recognized conservation organizations for purposes of certifying properties as suitable wildlife habitat.  A person who registers a property that has been certified under the program, as outlined below, would be entitled to an affirmative defense against any liability for a violation of a municipal ordinance under which the “certified private wildlife habitat,” or any component thereof, is deemed, or would be deemed, a nuisance or an otherwise unlawful condition.

     In establishing a private wildlife habitat certification program, the commissioner would be required to adopt regulations to implement the program.  The regulations would establish standards and procedures for the physical inspection of a property and, thereafter, its certification as "certified private wildlife habitat."  The regulations would also identify one or more private certifying entities to implement the physical inspection and certification.

     The certifying entities identified in the regulations could include nonprofit conservation organizations, for-profit landscaping companies, or any other private entities, provided that the commissioner has determined that any such entity possesses the appropriate expertise, qualifications, and resources to assess whether a property satisfies the standards and criteria established for purposes of certifying a property as a “certified private wildlife habitat.”  The certifying entities would be authorized to charge fees to cover reasonable costs associated with the inspection and certification process.

     The bill would also require that the regulations promote the use of native plants.  In addition, certifying entities would be required to issue to the owner of each certified property (1) a certificate of registration to be filed with the municipality in which the property is located, and (2) a sign for purposes of designating the property as a “certified private wildlife habitat.”

     Under the bill, prior to altering a property for purposes of establishing a “certified private wildlife  habitat,” the owner of the property would be required to obtain from a certifying entity a certificate of registration and file it with the municipal clerk of the municipality in which the property is located.  The municipal clerk would be authorized to charge a fee not to exceed $25 for each certificate of registration filed.

     A certificate of registration would expire two years after the issue date; however, the bill provides that the property owner could renew a certificate of registration for an additional two years by submitting a written and signed certification affirming that the property continues to comply with all applicable standards and criteria for certified private wildlife habitats and remains substantially unaltered, or has been improved, since the time the initial certificate of registration was issued.  The bill would allow for only one such renewal.  Upon the expiration of a certificate of registration, a person could apply for a new certificate of registration, which would be issued subject to all the aforementioned standards, procedures, and requirements, including a new physical inspection and new certification of the property by a certifying entity.

     A person who provides a notice of intent to alter a property for purposes of establishing a “certified private wildlife habitat,” and thereafter timely registers the property and maintains an unexpired certificate of registration with a municipality, would be entitled to an affirmative defense against any liability for a violation of a municipal ordinance under which the “certified private wildlife habitat,” or any component thereof, is deemed, or would be deemed, a nuisance or an otherwise unlawful condition.  The person would be entitled to this affirmative defense from the time of filing the notice of intent, provided that a certificate of registration is indeed obtained and filed within 60 days after the notice of intent.