ASSEMBLY, No. 1131

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

221st LEGISLATURE

 

PRE-FILED FOR INTRODUCTION IN THE 2024 SESSION

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblywoman  CAROL A. MURPHY

District 7 (Burlington)

Assemblywoman  MICHELE MATSIKOUDIS

District 21 (Middlesex, Morris, Somerset and Union)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Assemblywoman Dunn, Assemblymen Sauickie, Danielsen and Assemblywoman Flynn

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Requires DMVA provide central website registry of unclaimed veteran cremains for veteran organization locating services; Requires funeral director report possession of unclaimed veteran cremains.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     Introduced Pending Technical Review by Legislative Counsel.

  


An Act concerning unclaimed cremains of veterans and amending P.L.1983, c.385, P.L.2009, c.14, and N.J.S.38A:3-6.

 

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

 

     1.    Section 2 of P.L.1983, c.385 (C.26:7-18.2) is amended to read as follows: 

     2.    a.  Except as provided by subsection b. of this section, a person may dispose of the cremains of a dead human body which have not been claimed by a relative or friend of the deceased within one year from the date of cremation upon certification, to the commissioner's satisfaction, that a diligent effort has been made to identify, locate and notify a relative or friend of the deceased within that one-year period.  A diligent effort shall include a certified letter, return receipt requested, mailed to the person who authorized the cremation.

     A funeral director, licensed pursuant to P.L.1952, c.340 (C.45:7-32 et seq.), who, after due diligence to find a relative or friend of the deceased, is knowingly in possession of the unclaimed cremains of a veteran, as defined by section 1 of P.L.1989, c.162 (C.38A:3-6.3), shall notify the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, by written or electronic communication, of the location and identity of such cremains one year after the date of cremation.

     As used in this section, "cremains" means that substance which remains after the cremation of a dead human body.

     b.    A funeral director[, licensed pursuant to P.L.1952, c.340 (C.45:7-32 et seq.),] shall grant a qualified veterans' organization the right to receive the cremains of a veteran which have not been claimed by a relative or friend of the deceased within one year after cremation upon certification, to the commissioner's satisfaction, that a diligent effort, as defined in subsection a. of this section, has been made to identify, locate and notify a relative or friend of the deceased within that one-year period.

     A qualified veterans' organization which takes possession of cremains pursuant to this section shall dispose of the cremains by scattering them at sea or by interring them on land in a dignified manner at the State-operated, Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery, if the individual is eligible for interment at that facility.

     As used in this section, "qualified veterans' organization" means a veterans' organization that qualifies as a section 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(19) tax exempt organization under the Internal Revenue Code, or a federally chartered Veterans' Service Organization.

     c.     A funeral home or mortuary, or an agent of the funeral home or mortuary, or a funeral director, or qualified veterans'

organization, shall not be liable for damages in any civil action arising out of the disposal of cremains pursuant to this section unless the damages are the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

(cf: P.L.2009, c.14, s.1)

 

     2.    Section 2 of P.L.2009, c.14 (C.38A:3-2b4) is amended to read as follows: 

     2.    a.  A funeral director, licensed pursuant to P.L.1952, c.340 (C.45:7-32 et seq.), shall grant a qualified veterans' organization, as defined in subsection b. of section 2 of P.L.1983, c.385 (C.26:7-18.2), the right to receive the cremains of a veteran which have not been claimed by a relative or friend of the deceased within one year after cremation upon certification, to the satisfaction of the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, that a diligent effort, as defined in subsection a. of section 2 of P.L.1983, c.385 (C.26:7-18.2), has been made to identify, locate and notify a relative or friend of the deceased within that one-year period, as provided under section 2 of P.L.1983, c.385 (C.26:7-18.2).

     A funeral director, licensed pursuant to P.L.1952, c.340 (C.45:7-32 et seq.), who, after due diligence to find a relative or friend of the deceased, is knowingly in possession of the unclaimed cremains of a veteran, as defined by section 1 of P.L.1989, c.162 (C.38A:3-6.3), shall notify the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, by written or electronic communication, of the location and identity of such cremains one year after the date of cremation.

     A qualified veterans' organization which takes possession of cremains pursuant to this section shall dispose of the cremains by scattering them at sea or by interring them on land in a dignified manner at the State-operated, Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery, if the individual is eligible for interment at that facility.

     b.    A funeral home or mortuary, or an agent of the funeral home or mortuary, or a funeral director, or qualified veterans' organization, shall not be liable for damages in any civil action arising out of the disposal of cremains pursuant to this section unless the damages are the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

(cf: P.L.2009, c.14, s.2)

 

     3.    N.J.S. 38A:3-6 is amended to read as follows:

     38A:3-6.     Under the direction of the Governor, the Adjutant General shall:

     (a)   Exercise control over the affairs of the Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs and in connection therewith make and issue such regulations governing the work of the Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs and the conduct of its employees as may, in his judgment, be necessary or desirable.

     (b)   Be the request officer of the Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs within the meaning of such term as defined in section 1 of P.L.1944, c.112 (C.52:27B-1).

     (c)   (Deleted by amendment, P.L.1988, c.138.)

     (d)   Command the organized militia of the State, with responsibility for recruiting, mobilization, administration, training, discipline, equipping, supply and general efficiency thereof.  He may issue such regulations and delegate such command functions as he shall deem necessary.  The regulations so issued shall, insofar as possible, conform to the federal laws and regulations concerning the same.

     (e)   Maintain the archives and be the custodian of the records and papers required, by laws or regulations, to be filed with the Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs.

     (f)   Supervise, administer and coordinate those activities of the selective service system for which the Governor is responsible.

     (g)   Acquire by gift, grant, purchase, exchange, eminent domain, or in any other lawful manner, in the name of and for the use of the State of New Jersey, all those parcels of land as shall be necessary for armories and other militia facilities, and supervise the design, construction, alteration, maintenance and repair of said property.

     (h)   Establish and maintain such headquarters as may be required for the militia.

     (i)    Exercise the powers vested in him and perform such other duties and functions as required of him by the Governor and by federal and State laws and regulations.

     (j)    Exercise all of the functions, powers and duties heretofore vested in the Director of the Division on Veterans' Programs and Special Services.

     (k)   Appoint and remove officers and other personnel employed within the department, subject to the provisions of N.J.S.38A:3-8 and Title 11A of the New Jersey Statutes and other applicable statutes, except as herein otherwise specifically provided.

     (l)    Have authority to organize and maintain an administrative division and to assign to employment therein secretarial, clerical and other assistants in the department or the Adjutant General's Office for the purpose of providing centralized support to all segments of the department, including budgeting, personnel administration and oversight of equal opportunity programs.

     (m)  Perform, exercise and discharge the functions, powers and duties of the department through such divisions as may be established by this act or otherwise by law.

     (n)   Organize the work of the department in divisions not inconsistent with the provisions of this act and in bureaus and other organizational units as the Adjutant General may determine to be necessary for efficient and effective operation.

     (o)   Adopt, issue and promulgate, in the name of the department, pursuant to the "Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), such rules and regulations as may be authorized by law.

     (p)   Institute, or cause to be instituted, legal proceedings or processes as necessary to properly enforce and give effect to any of the Adjutant General's powers or duties.

     (q)   Make an annual report to the Governor and to the Legislature of the department's operations, and render other reports as the Governor shall from time to time request or as may be required by law.

     (r)    Coordinate the activities of the department, and the several divisions and other agencies therein, in a manner designed to eliminate overlapping and duplicative functions.

     (s)   Integrate within the department, so far as practicable, all staff services of the department and of several divisions and other agencies therein.

     (t)    Request access to all relevant files and records of other State agencies, which may be made available to the Adjutant General by the head of a State agency, and request, subject to the permission of the head of the State agency, any officer or employee therein to provide information as necessary to assist in the performance of the functions of the department.

     (u)   Supervise and operate the New Jersey Veterans' Memorial Home-Menlo Park, the New Jersey Veterans' Memorial Home-Vineland, the New Jersey Veterans' Memorial Home-Paramus and the New Jersey Veterans' Memorial Cemetery-Arneytown.

     (v)   Supervise and operate the liaison office and the field offices which serve the federal Veterans' Affairs Medical Centers.

     (w)  Make application for federal grants and programs, other than education grants or funds.

     (x)   Administer the federally-funded training and rehabilitation programs, except for the administration of federally-funded education and training programs set forth in 38 U.S.C. s.36 et seq.

     (y)   Provide current information to the general public on State and federal veterans' programs and benefits; create a comprehensive public webpage for women veterans that includes, but is not limited to, the following information: veterans' legal rights, benefits, medical and insurance issues, education, the transition from active service to civilian life, and other resources available to veterans.

     (z)   Develop and administer the New Jersey Homeless Veterans Grant Program established pursuant to section 3 of P.L.2013, c.239 (C.38A:3-6.2b).

     (aa)    Encourage and facilitate the registration of each service member residing in New Jersey with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, or its successor agency.  Registration shall take place, as appropriate, when the service member returns from deployment on federal active duty or is discharged or as soon as possible thereafter.  The term "service member" shall mean members of the New Jersey National Guard and members of the United States Armed Forces, or a Reserve component thereof, when the information on each member is made available to the department. 

     (bb)    Develop and coordinate a volunteer-based program comprised of former servicemembers to assist and mentor veterans who become involved with the criminal justice system, while criminal proceedings are pending and afterward, in accessing assistance to resolve the underlying problems that led or contributed to the veteran's involvement with the criminal justice system including, but not limited to, offering support and guidance, securing housing, employment linkages, job training, education, transportation, disability compensation claims, discharge status, health care and other linkages available at the local, State and federal level that can ease the challenge of reentry into civilian life.  In addition, the Adjutant General shall develop a registry of volunteer mentors and make the registry available pursuant to P.L.2017, c.42 (C.2C:43-23 et al.).

     (cc)    Prepare and disseminate a directory of Veterans Diversion Resource Program entities currently available within New Jersey pursuant to P.L.2017, c.42 (C.2C:43-23 et al.).

     (dd)   Create a comprehensive public webpage for Gold Star family members that includes, but is not limited to, the following information: State benefits; State and county liaisons; a list of service members from New Jersey killed in action; links to other Gold Star family organizations; and such other information and resources as the Adjutant General deems necessary and beneficial to a Gold Star family member.  A "Gold Star family member" means the spouse, domestic partner, partner in a civil union, parent, brother, sister, child, legal guardian, or other legal custodian, whether of the whole or half blood, or by adoption.

     (ee)    Identify each New Jersey resident who enrolls in the United States Military Academy, United States Naval Academy, United States Coast Guard Academy, United States Merchant Marine Academy, or United States Air Force Academy, and issue a New Jersey State flag to that individual.

     (ff)   Develop and maintain an Internet-based central reporting system to provide the location and identity of unclaimed cremains of veterans, as provided to the department by funeral directors, licensed pursuant to P.L.1952, c.340 (C.45:7-32 et seq.).

(cf: P.L.2019, c.283, s.1)

 

     4.    This act shall take effect immediately.

STATEMENT

 

     According to qualified veterans organizations, cremains of veterans have been abandoned on average 28 years, some as long as 50 years and others as long as 66 years.  Currently, funeral directors make a diligent effort to identify, locate and notify a relative or friend of the deceased, but sometimes the remains go unclaimed.  Oftentimes this causes funeral directors to continuously store remains until they are claimed and given a proper burial.  Under a 2009 law, funeral directors were given permission to grant veteran organizations and Veteran Service Organizations the right to receive cremains of veterans that have been unclaimed for a year. 

     Under this bill, funeral directors will continue to make diligent efforts to find a relative or loved one of the deceased.  Any cremains that remain one year after the date of cremation and the funeral directors diligent efforts, will be recorded and the funeral directors will notify the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs by written or electronic communication that they are in possession of unclaimed cremains of veterans.  The bill also requires the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to create and maintain an Internet-based central reporting system of the location and identity of unclaimed cremains of veterans.

     Some veteran organizations and Veterans Service Organizations currently spend an inordinate about of volunteer time attempting to locate the cremains of veterans.  The central reporting system at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will assist and facilitate these organizations to locate unclaimed cremains of veterans.  This legislation will provide for the veterans to be laid to rest in a more timely manner with the honor and respect that they deserve.