A bipartisan bill (A-3594) to replace title of the office “freeholder” with “county commissioner” in New Jersey cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday.
New Jersey remains the only state to continue using the office title of freeholder, coined during colonial times when only white male owners of debt-free land could hold office.
Bill supporters have said the term freeholder is offensive to women and racial minorities, who were excluded not only from county office by such requirements, but were also excluded from voting and holding many other rights.
The bill defines the role of what would be a county commissioner as “a member of the board which manages, controls, and governs the property, finances, and affairs of the county, and in which the executive and legislative powers of the county are vested.”
“Removing vestiges of racism and sexism found in names or titles that have no place in our society today is an important step among many needed to bring an end to systemic bias,” said co-sponsor Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, D-Hunterdon, Mercer.
Counties would also be required to update their letterheads, stationery and other writings, as well as websites to reflect the title change within a year of the bill becoming effective.
The update or replacement of signs or other writings would not be required within the bill’s timeframe if doing so requires the use of county funds. These changes would, however, need to occur during the ordinary course of business.
Atlantic County Democratic Freeholder Caren Fitzpatrick asked the board to support a name change in 2018, when an earlier bill was introduced to allow counties to change their names.
That bill didn’t pass by the end of the session.
Assemblywoman Betty DeCroce, R-Essex, Morris, Passaic, is also a sponsor of the legislation along with Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset.
The bill now goes to the speaker for further consideration.