Legislative Action

“Please help Protect Your State Parks, Recreational and agricultural Lands by supporting “S.J. 35 – Resolution Proposing an Amendment to the State Constitution to Protect Real Property Held of Controlled by the State.
The following information offers an explanation and reasons why this is a critical piece of legislation.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO PROTECT PUBLIC LANDS
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)

Every year, the CT General Assembly proposes state-owned public lands to be sold, traded, or given away in the “Conveyance Act.” State Parks, State Forests, Wildlife Management Areas, and other valuable public lands can be sold, traded, or given away through a late session amendment to the Conveyance Act that typically happens without public input or scrutiny by most Legislators. Your public lands should not be put at risk every year without any opportunity for your public input.

Why is this so important?
  • All State-owned lands are held on behalf of the public, and there is clear public interest in how these lands – your lands – are sold, traded, or given away.
  • Many public lands were gifts to the State. The state should honor these gifts or risk discouraging future land donations for public benefit.
  • Public input on the sale, trade, and giveaway of some of our state’s most valuable assets is especially important given our current budget climate.
  • The public hearing process has been critical both to raise concerns and make improvements to conveyance proposals.

What would the Constitutional Amendment (SJ 35) do?
Before the General Assembly could sell, trade, or give away public lands, they must:

  • Hold a public hearing in the General Assembly; and
  • Achieve a 2/3rds vote for any public lands held by the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (State Parks, Forests, etc.) or the Department of Agriculture (state-owned agricultural lands or easements).

What would the Constitutional Amendment NOT do?

  • It would not end all Conveyances of public land, but it would ensure a more deliberative and transparent public process before they could happen.
  • It would not interrupt the ability of state agencies to do the following:
  • Enter into or renew lease agreements with municipalities and others; o Use utility, road, or other easements necessary for work on public lands;
  • Make boundary adjustments with adjacent landowners/municipalities; or
  • Convey state lands through the existing administrative/surplus land processes governed by statute.
  • It would not apply to lands without a state ownership interest such as municipal or privately owned lands.

Is a Constitutional Amendment necessary?
Yes. The Conveyance Act is written with powerful language (“Notwithstanding any provision of the general statutes …”) which overrides any laws that might be more protective of public lands. Only a Constitutional Amendment would ensure that a public process with public input is honored.

How do you amend the State Constitution?
There are two primary pathways: 1) pass a resolution in the General Assembly with a 3/4ths majority in both chambers; or 2) pass a resolution in two successive Legislatures by a simple majority. If either pathway is achieved this year, a referendum question on amending the Constitution would go on the November, 2018 ballot.

Is this all about the Haddam Land Swap?
No, although the Haddam Land Swap did help to bring to light the concerns about conveying valuable public lands as part of political horse-trading. Every year since the Haddam Land Swap made headlines, the Conveyance Act has continued to sell, trade,
or give away your public lands without appropriate public input.

Why should you support the Constitutional Amendment?

  • This bill has strong bipartisan support and was approved unanimously by the Government Administration & Elections (GAE) Committee in both 2016 and 2017;
  • Maine, Massachusetts, and New York have constitutional amendments to better protect state lands, and this has both helped to protect public lands and make clear the process that must be used if they are to be conveyed. It’s time for Connecticut to take this important step as well; and
  • As the CEQ report Preserved But Maybe Not – the Impermanence of State Conservation Lands makes clear, State Parks, Forests, and other valuable state-owned public lands are vulnerable to being lost unless the existing conveyance process is reformed through amending the state constitution.If you have any questions, please contact Eric Hammerling at the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA) via ehammerling@ctwoodlands.org or 860/346-TREE.

Top 10 Reasons Why You Need a Constitutional Amendment to Protect Public Lands

10. Many Public lands were donated to YOU and YOU deserve a voice. Public lands — like Auerfarm Scenic Reserve State Park in Bloomfield — have been donated to the State by individuals who wished to leave a legacy of public land for all to enjoy. Their donation and intent should be honored.

9. Public lands keep our air and water clean. Public lands like People’s State Forest were acquired to protect water quality as well as to showcase positive land management. These lands that provide so many values to you should not be given away without any benefit to the public in return.

8. Public lands are valuable assets. State Parks like Hammonasset or Talcott Mountain draw tourists, increase home values, improve public health, harbor wildlife, and both attract and keep businesses in Connecticut. The state may be in fiscal crisis now, but protection of your public lands will help the economy rebound.

7. Public lands belong to all of us. Public lands like Harkness Memorial State Park are a benefit to everyone statewide, not only to a local, special interest.

6. We need to be fair and good neighbors. If you bought land near public lands like Meshomasic State Forest, you should be assured that your investment was not made in vain.

5. Public land is one of the best investments we have made in Connecticut. 134 State Parks and Forests attract 8-9 million visitors a year, generate over $1 billion, and support over 9,000 private sector jobs every year. The public lands that provide these benefits must be protected and not be given away without public input.

4. Public lands benefit those who have less. Many people cannot afford to travel to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or Yosemite National Parks. Connecticut’s State Parks and Forests, most of which are accessible for free, ARE your local places for awe and inspiration.

3. Once Lost, Gone Forever. Once public lands like Seaside State Park are sold, it will be impossible to get them back as public assets.

2. We need to pass public lands on as our legacy to our children. Today, there is a State Park or Forest within 15 minutes of every resident of Connecticut. That natural legacy can only be protected if tomorrow our public lands are still nearby and accessible to all.

1. PUBLIC LANDS ARE YOUR LANDS. Public lands are owned by the public and should be managed by public agencies like CT DEEP. These special places owned by YOU must not be sold, traded, or given away without input from the public and an overwhelming benefit to the public.

Think about your favorite State Park, Forest, or Wildlife Management Area, and you will understand that a Constitutional Amendment to protect your public lands is the only way to protect them. NOW is the time to act!

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