Witkos Applauds General Assembly’s Passage of Bill to Protect Open Space

May 9, 2018

Deputy Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Kevin Witkos (R-Canton) applauded the General Assembly’s passage of a bill to establish a constitutional amendment to protect open space in Connecticut and implement more transparency and oversight regarding the sale of preserved land.

Senate Joint Resolution 35 received the needed percentage of votes in both the Senate and House to appear on the November ballot for voters to decide the issue.

“Connecticut’s natural beauty is one of our greatest assets we must protect for generations to come,” said Sen. Witkos, a cosponsor and major proponent of the bill. “Connecticut’s scenic beauty is one of the many reasons why people live here and visit our state. If we want to preserve this asset over time, we have to be proactive about conservation. A constitutional amendment will ensure that environmental protection always remains a top priority. It will address the need for more transparency and oversight so that the proposed sale of any preserved land is always sufficiently weighed and considered by lawmakers and the public.”

The amendment seeks to bring more transparency to the state land conveyance process. Currently, conveyances are often all made in one bill and are not assessed in a public hearing. This process has resulted in controversial land sale proposals, such as the 2012 Haddam Land Swap, and has been long questioned by environmental advocates.

The proposed constitutional amendment includes two parts:

1) The proposed language would first require a public hearing on any proposed sale of state owned land to a person or entity other than another state agency.

2) The resolution would also require the General Assembly to approve the sale of state-owned land by a vote of at least two-thirds the total membership of the Senate and House of Representatives. This provision would be limited to the sale of any property under the control of the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Compared to proposals from previous years, this year’s proposed constitutional amendment clarifies that a two-thirds vote of support of the legislature would be required only for the sale of land that is under the control of the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, thereby ensuring that the state is protecting its forest land, parks, conservation areas and other open space without limiting the ability of agencies such as the Department of Transportation to manage roadways or other property.

The legislation passed the Senate with unanimous support last week and passed the House with 118 members voting in support today. That is enough support for the proposal to now appear as a ballot question before voters in November.