Free beaches for NJ teens? Yes, if lawmakers get their way
Beach badge season is over for 2019 – and if some lawmakers get their way, might never return for most teenagers in some Shore towns.
A 1955 state law allowing towns to collect fees bars them from being charged for children under 12 years old. New legislation sponsored in part by Assemblyman Ned Thomson, R-Monmouth, would allow towns to end or reduce fees for children between the ages of 12 and 17.
“We want to reduce and eliminate those fees the best we can. It should be public access to our beaches. They’re everybody’s beach, not just the municipalities, though they’re charged with protecting them and staffing them with lifeguards, safety and police, they should be compensated for that aspect of it, but everyone should be able to enjoy our shore,” Thomson said.
Thomson said Belmar officials approached him about making the family-friendly change in state law.
“Bring the family to the beach. That’s a large part of our economy,” Thomson said. “Get them more involved in the sports that we have at the beaches and just enjoy our Jersey Shore.”
There’s a list of groups for which state law allows towns to eliminate or reduce beach fees, but teens aren’t on it.
The list includes people 65 years and older; people with disabilities; active members of the military, including New Jersey National Guard members, and their spouses and dependent children; most military veterans; and people with a driver’s license or ID card with a Gold Star Family designation.
The proposed bill would expand the number of veterans who are eligible for free and reduced-price beach access by deleting language from state law that limits it to veterans who have either served at least 90 days in active duty or have been discharged or released from active duty because of a service-incurred injury or disability.
“The veterans have given their efforts and served our country in a great way, and I feel it’s the least we can do for them,” Thomson said.
The bill, A5712, is a bipartisan one, sponsored by two Democrats and two Republicans. It was introduced in late August and referred to the Assembly tourism committee, which isn’t scheduled to meet again until after the November election.
A separate bill, S3966/A5735, would require shore towns to provide veterans with free beach access.