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  • NJ A3688
  • The "Family and Private Burial Grounds Preservation Act."
Introduced
(5/12/2016)
In Committee
(11/14/2016)
Crossed OverPassedSignedDead/Failed/Vetoed
2016-2017 Regular Session
This bill, which would be known as the "Family and Private Burial Grounds Preservation Act," would provide the legal protection necessary to prevent the disturbance and destruction of burial grounds in the State that have been established and used exclusively by private persons or families. For ease of practical application, the bill would define "family or private burial ground" (burial ground) to mean, in particular, a cemetery that (1) contains the remains of two or more persons; (2) is clearly identified through the intentional placement of stone tablets, markers, or tombstones, fencing, memorial stones or statutes, or through some other obvious means; (3) is not owned or operated by a government entity, by a religious corporation or organization, or by a cemetery company that has received authorization to operate pursuant to the provisions of the "New Jersey Cemetery Act of 2003;" and (4) is not located on land that has ever been used for the purpose of public burials. The bill would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to administer and enforce its provisions, and it would grant the DEP general supervisory and regulatory authority, and jurisdiction, over all family and private burial grounds in the State. The bill would make it unlawful, in particular, for any person to intentionally, willfully, or knowingly: (1) disturb, destroy, mutilate, deface, or injure a family or private burial ground or any human skeletal remains or burial objects contained therein; (2) tamper with an interment space, or expose through excavation, disinter, or remove any human skeletal remains or burial objects contained in a burial ground's interment spaces; (3) destroy, mutilate, deface, injure, knock down, or remove any ornamentation, or any tombstone, monument, stone marker, statue, or other memorial structure in a burial ground; (4) destroy, mutilate, deface, injure, knock down, or remove any fence, railing, or other structure that has been erected along the boundary of a burial ground; or (5) allow any person, entity, or group access, or facilitate such access, to a burial ground for any of the above-listed purposes. In addition, the bill would require any new construction, excavation, or building in the area of a burial ground to comply with local land use regulations concerning burial sites, burial grounds, or cemeteries. The bill would specify, moreover, that in the absence of applicable local regulations, no new construction, excavation, or building may be conducted within 15 feet of the boundaries of a burial ground, except when such activity is approved, in writing, by a relative of each person interred in the burial ground, or is determined to be necessary for: (1) the protection of public health; (2) the construction of capital improvements or the provision of essential public services; (3) the construction of a State highway; or (4) the construction, in accordance with specified limitations, of a private sewer line connection to a public sewer system. Pursuant to the bill's provisions, a person who owns property on which a burial ground is located would be required to report the existence of the burial ground to the DEP within 120 days after the bill's effective date, and also to record the existence of the burial ground in the deed to the property. The bill, however, would allow a property owner to apply to the municipality to take possession of any burial ground on the property, and to convey to the municipality, the property owner's interest therein. In addition, if the DEP or the local board of health concludes that a burial ground has been neglected by a property owner to the point that it has become a public hazard or nuisance, the department or the local board of health, as the case may be, would be authorized to apply to the municipality to take possession of the burial ground pursuant to the "Eminent Domain Act of 1971." A municipality that has acquired a burial ground would be authorized to convert the burial ground to serve another purpose only if such conversion is approved, in writing, by a living relative of each person interred therein, or is determined to be necessary for one of the reasons listed above, for which construction, excavation, or building activities may be authorized. The bill would allow the department to authorize the total dismantling of a burial ground and the permanent disinterment and reinterment in another cemetery of the human skeletal remains and burial objects contained therein, only if such action: (1) is deemed by the department to be necessary and appropriate for the purposes of facilitating an approved municipal conversion of a burial ground, or an approved construction, excavation, or building activity taking place on or near a burial ground, or (2) is otherwise approved, in writing, by a living relative of each person interred in the burial ground. Any person who gives such written relative approval - whether for the municipal conversion of a burial ground, for construction, excavation, or building activities taking place on or near a burial ground, or for the permanent disinterment of human skeletal remains or burial objects in a burial ground - would be liable, in addition to any other applicable penalties, for damages caused by a false statement. The bill would require any human skeletal remains or burial objects that are either lawfully or unlawfully recovered from a burial ground to be reinterred, as soon as is reasonably possible, in the same burial ground from which they were taken, except in the case that permanent disinterment has been authorized by the department. In such a case, the bill would require any disinterred human skeletal remains or burial objects to be reinterred in a cemetery that is owned or operated by a cemetery company, religious corporation or organization, or government entity. Failure to comply with any of the bill's provisions would subject a violator to both criminal and civil liability. In particular, a person who violates the bill's provisions would be guilty of: (1) a criminal offense, ranging from a crime of the fourth degree to a crime of the second degree, as provided by N.J.S.2C:17-3 (criminal mischief; tampering with grave site), N.J.S.2C:20-2 (general theft; theft of human remains), section 1 of P.L.2007, c.321 (C.2C:20-2.3) (theft of headstones or flags from grave sites), section 1 of P.L.2002, c.127 (C.2C:22-1) (disturbance or desecration of human remains), or section 2 of P.L.1981, c.282 (C.2C:33-11) (exposure to threat of violence through defacement of private cemetery property), as applicable; or (2) a disorderly persons offense, subject to a fine of up to $25,000, if none of the penalty provisions identified in paragraph (1) is applicable to the violative conduct; or (3) a crime of the fourth degree, subject to imprisonment and a fine of no less than $25,000 nor more than $100,000, if: (a) none of the penalty provisions identified in paragraph (1) is applicable to the violative conduct, and (b) the offender has previously been convicted of violating the bill's provisions. A court would be authorized to suspend a sentence of imprisonment imposed for such an offense only if the court determines that imprisonment would result in manifest injustice. A person who violates the provisions of section 4 or 5 of this bill with the specific intent to attain an economic benefit therefrom, would additionally be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree, and would be subject to a sentence of imprisonment of not less than one year, nor more than five years, and a fine of not less than $100,000, nor more than $10,000,000, which fine must be consistent with, and based upon, the value of the economic benefit attained by the offender as a result of the violation. "Economic benefit" would be defined to include, among other things, the investment and resale value gained, and that may be realized, from an increase in the usability of land on which the burial ground is located, or from an improvement of the aesthetics thereof, which results from a violation under the bill. In addition to the criminal penalties provided by the bill and any other penalties provided by law, a person who desecrates or destroys a burial ground or the human remains or objects therein, would be subject, under the bill's provisions, to a civil penalty of up to $100,000 for a first offense, and up to $200,000 for a second or subsequent offense. The bill would authorize a court, moreover, to hold a person vicariously liable, in certain circumstances, for offensive conduct that is engaged in by the person's agent or authorized representative. Finally, the bill would authorize any aggrieved relative of a person interred in a compromised burial ground to file a civil action for damages against the person responsible for causing the harm to the interment spaces or remains of the relative's relations. A prevailing relative in such a case would be entitled to the receipt of damages amounting to three times the value of all costs incurred by the relative to remedy the effects of violation. In addition, the prevailing relative would be entitled to damages for emotional distress and reimbursement for out-of-pocket litigation expenses. By providing for the imposition of significant civil and criminal penalties, the granting of civil damage awards, and the finding of vicarious liability, the bill endeavors to create a system of deterrence that will effectively protect family and private burial grounds against encroachment or destruction by corporate actors or big business interests who may receive a substantial net benefit from destruction thereof, and who, therefore, may not be dissuaded from violations of the bill absent the existence of such substantial penalties. With the exception of awards for civil damages, any civil or criminal penalties that are collected in accordance with the bill's provisions would be deposited in the "Family and Private Burial Grounds Preservation Fund," which would be established and maintained by the department pursuant to the bill's provisions. The bill would also require the deposit into the Fund of any additional moneys that are appropriated or allocated to, or otherwise received by, the department for the bill's purposes.
Not specified
Reported and Referred to Assembly Appropriations Committee  (on 11/14/2016)
 
 

Date Chamber Action Description
11/14/2016 A Reported and Referred to Assembly Appropriations Committee
11/14/2016 Assembly State and Local Government Hearing (14:00 11/14/2016 Committee Room 14, 4th Floor)
5/12/2016 A Introduced, Referred to Assembly State and Local Government Committee
Date Motion Yea Nay Other
Detail 11/13/2016 Assembly State and Local Government Committee: Reported Favorably 3 2 0