TRENTON, NJ – The February warehouse fire in Hillsborough at Veterans Industrial Park has promoted Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli to ask federal lawmakers to revisit “sovereign immunity” so that federal property used for commercial purposes is subject to local fire regulations.
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine by which the federal government cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution.
Ciattarelli’s request is in response to the fire at the Route 206 complex that is owned by the Veterans Administration (VA). The VA leases the property to a private company that subleases warehouse space to various commercial enterprises.
Although the federally owned and operated property may be inspected and cited for fire code violations by local officials, those local fire codes cannot be enforced due to sovereign immunity.
In a letter to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, Ciattarelli (R-Somerset), wrote:
“The sovereign immunity exemption is a contentious issue in the community. Reason being, it is the municipality and its emergency management service agencies that are responsible for the public health and safety in responding to any dangerous event."
The letter continues:
“Regulations that exempt federal property used for governmental purposes from state and local fire codes are arguably bad. Regulations that exempt federal property used for commercial purposes from state and local fire codes are seemingly outrageous.
"With this in mind, a change in federal regulations is warranted. Namely, at the very least, when federal property is leased to the private sector for commercial purposes, the lease agreements should state that tenants are subject to state and local fire codes, including complete compliance and citations for non-compliance.”