HARTFORD, CT — A constitutional amendment to protect state land from being sold or given away without public input will be on the 2018 ballot for voters to decide.
To get on the ballot it needed to be approved by a three-quarters vote of both chambers. It passed the Senate on a 35-0 vote last week and on Wednesday night it passed 118-32 in the House — four votes more than the three-quarters needed to get it on the ballot.
“We’re so excited, this has been years in the making,” Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, said after the House vote.
“Lots of different organizations worked hard to make this a priority giving this lots of momentum,” Hammerling said. “Now we need to carry that momentum through to the ballot box in November.
The annual land conveyance bill, which the General Assembly uses to sell or give away land, in the past has been identified by environmentalists as problematic. The annual omnibus bill usually lands on lawmakers’ desks shortly before they adjourn and leaves many wondering whether the state is getting the best bang for its buck.
Usually, according to environmentalists, it’s not.
One example is the Haddam Land Swap in 2011. The General Assembly and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy approved giving 17 acres along the Connecticut River in Haddam to Riverhouse Properties to build a hotel and a mix of retail spaces. In exchange, the state was given 87 acres adjacent to the Cockponset State Forest.
Environmentalists felt it was a bad deal for the state.
The bill states, among other things, that the General Assembly cannot enact any legislation requiring a state agency to sell, transfer or otherwise dispose of any real property or interest in real property that is under the custody or control of such agency to any person or entity other than another state agency, unless a committee has held a public hearing regarding such sale.
“We’re trying to preserve open space,” Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, said during debate before the Senate vote. Witkos noted that the state has a goal of having 20 percent of open space protected from developers by the year 2020 “and we’re only in the high teens — we have a little way go.”
Witkos said that if open space is sold, “it is important it is done in the light of the public,” which is something language in the bill ensures.