Sen. Witkos Proposes Constitutional Amendment to Protect Open Space

January 13, 2016
Sen. Witkos Proposes Constitutional Amendment to Protect Open Space
[slickr-flickr search= “sets” set=”72157663367561431″ size = “large”]

HartfordState Senator Kevin Witkos (R-Canton) today unveiled a proposal to establish a constitutional amendment to protect open space in Connecticut and implement strengthened restrictions on the sale of preserved land.

“The state of Connecticut has an obligation to protect state-owned forest land, parks, wildlife areas and other open space,” said Sen. Witkos. “Our state is beautiful. But conserving its scenic beauty takes constant work. This year, our work must focus on increasing protections for our environment, including protecting and preserving open space for today and for future generations. A constitutional amendment will ensure that environmental protection always remains a top priority. It will also address the need for strengthened protections to ensure that any preserved land sale is sufficiently weighed and considered by lawmakers and the public, and is balanced with the acquisition of new protected land.”

Sen. Witkos was inspired to pursue a constitutional amendment after meeting with his constituent David Leff, the Canton town historian and former Deputy Commissioner of the CT Department of Environmental Protection.

“Our parks and forests belong to all the people of Connecticut now and for all time. Only a constitutional amendment will ensure that these areas are passed on to our children, grandchildren and theirs who, in an increasingly urban and frenetic world, will need natural places to challenge their bodies and renew their spirits,” said Leff.

The draft language would prohibit the state from selling open space unless the three requirements were met:

1. There must be a 2/3 vote by each chamber in favor of selling the space.

2. Any legislation allowing for the sale of an open space property must be a standalone bill. This will prevent sales from being incorporated into much larger conveyance or implementer bills, which are often rushed through the legislature.

3. All money received for any transfer, sale or conversion of land must be used solely to replace it with similar land to be used for open space, parks, forests or farms. This will preserve the amount of open space currently owned by the state. The new land acquired by the state must be similar in conservation, recreation, or agricultural value to the land being sold. It also must be in as close proximity as possible. In addition, the fair market value of any land sold must be appropriated in the same bill that authorizes the sale to pay for the state’s acquisition of similar open space.

Sen. Witkos will be asking the General Assembly’s GAE Committee to raise a bill reflecting his draft legislation (PDF).