Legislation to change the titles of county officials from freeholders to county commissioners was approved today by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, the new law would go into effect in January. Voters will still elect freeholders in 2020, and elections for county commissioners will begin in 2021.
Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin announced plans to change the title earlier this month.
“As a term dating back to before the Revolutionary War, whose meaning was historically intended to keep county-level office restricted to white, male, debt-free property owners it is not only outdated and archaic, but it is offensive to people of color and women,” said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), one of the bill’s sponsors.
Zwicker said that “racist and sexist laws and conditions historically kept people from voting, owning land, and much more.”
“Removing from New Jersey’s political titles this exclusionary term, while only a small and symbolic part of the work that lies ahead of us to break down the walls of systemic racism and sexism, is a step in the right direction,” he said.
Another sponsor, Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton), said that it was time for the archaic Board of Chosen Freeholders to rebrand itself.
“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,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “’Freeholder’ was never an effective title for the county public office holder. For persons of color, it was more of a reminder of the sordid and oppressive ideals of its colonial-era origins. It’s time to end the confusing and hurtful conversation surrounding the term ‘freeholder’ and rename the position.”
The bill has bi-partisan support, with Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R-Parsippany) also serving as a prime co-sponsor.