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Van Drew-Beach Legislation Providing Free Or Reduced Fee Beach Badges To Veterans Advances

A view of the Senate Chambers from the 2010-2011 Senate Reorganization.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Jeff Van Drew and Jim Beach that would allow municipalities to, by ordinance, provide free or reduced fee badges for beaches, bathing and recreational grounds to veterans was approved today by the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“Our veterans have sacrificed so much so that we can enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we do in this country,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland). “While we honor them publicly at veterans’ ceremonies and Memorial Day celebrations, we must also think about the things we can do to make life a little easier for them throughout the year. Providing our veterans with free access to our beautiful beaches, or a break on the price of a badge is a small gesture to show our appreciation for their service, but it’s the right thing to do. This legislation ensures that towns and cities that wish to offer free or reduced price beach badges to veterans have the ability to do so and that those currently providing them are protected under state law from any challenges to the program.”

“The men and women who have served in the Armed Forces deserve the highest level of respect and honor from our citizens and from our state,” said Senator Beach, chair of the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee (D-Burlington, Camden). “This measure is one more way that we as a state can express our gratitude to the men and women who left behind their families and friends to serve our country, and remind them that the sacrifices they made so we can enjoy time with our own families in a safe and free society will never be forgotten.”

Sea Isle City was the first municipality in the state to offer free beach tags to veterans, paid for through a program operated by the city in conjunction with the local VFW Post 1963. Currently in its third year, the program provides 500 beach tags to veterans each season on average, which are paid for with money brought in through fundraising, the city’s mayor said today in testimony before the committee.

“Sea Isle City began this program as a way to give something back to our veterans, given all that they’ve done for us,” said Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard C. Desiderio, who also serves as Cape May County Freeholder. “Allowing these men and women on our beach for free was a small price to pay for the service they have provided to this country. At the end of the day, it was a small way to say ‘thank you’ for their service and their sacrifice. I am pleased the Legislature is moving forward with this bill, which will encourage additional municipalities to offer this type of program while ensuring that we can continue to offer free beach tags to our veterans into the future.”

The majority of the shore communities in New Jersey require members of the public to purchase beach badges in order to gain access to the beach, bathing and recreational facilities. Of the 47 shore municipalities in the State, only eight – Atlantic City, Wildwood, North Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, Upper Township, Highlands, Keansburg, and Middletown – allow public access to the beaches without the purchase of a beach badge.

The bill, S-958, will allow municipalities to provide discounted or free beach badges to individuals who have served in any of the Armed Forces of the United States and who were discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable. Individuals must have served at least 90 days in active duty or have been discharged or released from active duty by reason of a service incurred injury or disability to be eligible.

A law signed last year allows towns to offer discounted or free beach badges to active duty military personnel – including persons on active duty in New Jersey’s National Guard who have completed initial training – and their spouse or dependent children over the age of 12 years old. Current law also permits municipalities to offer a beach badge discount to individuals 65 years and over and individuals who are considered disabled by the federal Social Security Act criteria; and provides that children younger than 12 years old are not charged a fee.

The committee approved the bill by a vote of 4-0. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.

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