WOODBRIDGE — Gov. Phil Murphy has stopped the New Jersey Turnpike Authority from removing U.S. flags from a Garden State Parkway overpass but now the attention turns to who ordered the removal of the landmark display in the first place.

A Democratic lawmaker, meanwhile, wants to amend state law to keep the American flags flying.

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The flags were first attached to the chainlink guards of the overpasses in the hours after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and have been maintained by veterans and law enforcement groups ever since. This summer, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority began to remove them, citing a "long standing policy" to prohibit flags, signs or banners by private parties on authority property.

In the place of the flags are signs pointing to N.J.A.C. 19:9-1.13, a state law prohibiting the installation of any unauthorized sign, item or structure on Turnpike property.

After hearing about the removal of the flags, Murphy said he spoke to "the team" at the Turnpike Authority and put a stop to their removal "for now."

A spokesman for the Turnpike Authority did not answer questions on Wednesday about who made the decision to remove the flags and what prompted the decision.

Assemblyman Daniel Benson, D-Mercer, told New Jersey 101.5 he expects to talk to Turnpike Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti about the matter this week.

"I am gratified the governor stepped in very quickly and recognized that this was something both inappropriate and ill timed. I've heard a lot of theories there might have been other types of flags that people were trying to put up there or there were some other sayings," Benson said.

Benson is planning legislation that will allow law enforcement and veterans organizations to display and maintain only U.S. flags on Turnpike overpasses in coordination with the Turnpike Authority.

"Clearly it is within the power of government to limit to that. This is not an issue of free speech or any of these other types of things where you'd have to open it up to all other sorts of insignia or flags or as many groups as possible," Benson said.

He doesn't suspect "foul play" as being behind the decision to remove the flags and instead blames a lack of common sense.

"If anything, it reminds us why those flags were put there in the first place, particularly as we approach this anniversary of 9/11, that our commitment is to never forget. We'll continue and be reinvigorated by folks keeping this tradition up."

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