Connecticut legislators are moving to protect public lands with an amendment to the state constitution.
Senate Joint Resolution No. 39, which was introduced in January, would approve an amendment to Connecticut’s constitution preventing the state from selling any piece of land without a public hearing and a two-thirds vote of approval from each house in the General Assembly. If the state Senate passes the resolution, Connecticut voters must then vote in favor of the amendment on their 2018 ballots. S.J. 39, a similar version of which was passed last year in accordance with the process required to change the constitution, has been lauded by environmental activists in the state.
“We have been pushing for just this kind of thing for the last few years,” said Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association. “It has always been a concern to us that public lands are so vulnerable to just being given away by the legislators.”
The state often gives away parcels of land as part of the yearly conveyance bill, which allows the state to give developed and open spaces to municipalities or private parties, Hammerling said.
He said the CFPA is especially concerned with pieces of land added to the bill towards the end of legislative sessions. These pieces of land are sometimes given away without a public hearing, but the amendment would force legislators to hold a public hearing in such cases.
Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, executive director of the New Haven Land Trust, said it is “too tempting” for lawmakers in Hartford to make short-term decisions about state land, particularly if the state is having a fiscal crisis. He said having stricter requirements for selling land is critical to protecting state parks and forests.
The Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit political interest group, has also listed S.J. 39 as a piece of legislation for residents to support.
Executive Director Lori Brown said the current system does not allow for careful scrutiny of the recreational, environmental or agricultural value of state lands before they are sold. The only way to ensure that land is treated responsibly is to require that each piece be looked at separately, she said.
State Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, proposed the first resolution in 2016. This year’s resolution was introduced by the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee.
Committee Co-Chair state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said he believes the measure will pass the legislature and could be on the ballot for voters to decide upon in 2018.
He said he supports Witkos’ proposal, adding that open space is one of the state’s most valuable resources. He explained that some of Connecticut’s open land was gifted to the state by farmers who believed it would be preserved for perpetuity.
The current Connecticut constitution was approved in 1965.