2015 State Legislative Session Re-Cap & Final Messages
The General Assembly adjourned its 2015 session on Wednesday, June 3rd at midnight, adopting a new $40.3 billion biennial state budget which was signed by Governor Dannel P. Malloy. However, with the last hours of the session dominated by contentious budget negotiations and a very close vote in both the House (73-70) and the Senate (19-17), time ran out and a number of important bills (including the Conveyance Act) and budget implementers were taken up in Special Session on June 29-30. The budget bill is attached below. Here is how CLCC’s 2015 Conservation Agenda priorities fared:
Community Investment Act: No Further Cuts - Thanks to your steadfast advocacy throughout the session, the cut to the Community Investment Act (CIA) - which provides a consistent stream of funding for critical programs for open space conservation, farmland/dairy support, historic preservation and affordable housing - was partially restored.
- Biennial Budget Cut Reduced: Fifty percent (50%) of the CIA funds collected from January 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 will be diverted to the general fund, rather than 100% as was originally proposed by the Governor's budget. (Budget Bill section 93 line 2777)
- Last minute diversion: Language added into the final budget in the wanng hours of the session diverts $90,000 from CIA for the Horse Guard Units in Avon and Newtown for each of the next two fiscal years. (Budget Bill Section 218 line 8538)
- The budget implementer did NOT include any further diversions from the Community Investment Act (CIA) beyond those already approved under the budget for FY16 and FY17.
Bond Authorizations Approved - The General Assembly approved a bond package that included authorizations for the following funding over the next two fiscal years:
- $16 million for the Open Space & Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program for land trusts, towns and water companies.
- $15 million for the Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program, which is essential to DEEP's ability to acquire land for conservation and recreation -- another significant victory in light of the fact that the original biennial bond package had proposed completely eliminating funding for this program.
- $10 million for the Recreational Trails Grant Program for construction, maintenance, and improvements to bikeways, pedestrian walkways, greenways, and multi-use trails.
- $25 million for State Park infrastructure alterations and renovations.
- $40 million for two new resilience and green infrastructure funds.
State Parks, CEQ, Conservation Districts - Overall good news but State Parks once again short-changed (and taxed!)
- State Parks Budget Takes a Hit and subject to a sales tax (seriously!): the budget restores all but $200,000 of the $2 million cut by the Governor's budget in each of the next two years; but when added to the $400,000 in rescissions that will take effect, State Parks will take a total hit of $600,000. And, to add insult to injury, the State Budget changed the previously exempt status of State Park admissions fees (technically, parking fees), now requiring DEEP to add the 6.35% CT sales tax to the admissions fee they charge at 25 State Parks. Read more HERE on the Connecticut Forest & Park Association website.
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Safe - The budget restores funding for staff and operations and keeps the agency at DEEP.
Conservation Districts and Soil and Water Councils - The budget restores most of their current budget.
Public Land Protection
State Land Conveyances: Three Sections of Concern Dropped - Neither the 2015 Conveyance Act (the annual bill that allows the General Assembly to transfer public lands to towns and private parties), nor the budget implementer (a vehicle often used to revive bills that did not survive in the regular session) included proposals to transfer a portion of Silver Sands State Park to the City of Milford for parking (Section 3) and to permit access across parts of the Quinebaug Wildlife Management Area in eastern CT for gravel and sand extraction (Sections 13 & 14). Another problematic section (Section 8), proposing to convey over 100 acres of the Centennial Watershed Forest to the town of Fairfield for no consideration, was deleted early in the process, prior to the public hearing.
Two CLCC Priority Bills Passed During Regular Session
- SB347 (PA 15-23) - changes the cap on combined federal and state funding for projects under DEEP's Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Program (OSWA) from 70% to 90%, with additional language providing the DEEP Commissioner with discretion to waive the cap entirely under certain delineated conditions. This legislation scores a big win for land trusts and towns by reducing, and potentially eliminating, the often deal-breaking amount of match funding required to close a conservation project.
- SB1105 Section 30 - amends the general statutes to include language clarifying that the exemption from claims of adverse possession also extends to lands protected by conservation easements held by land trusts.
CLCC also submitted testimony in support of the following bills that passed:
- SB 1061 (P.A. 15-106) - State Parks Sustainability Bill (provides some measures to help increase revenues for State Parks)
- SB1062 - Recreational Trails Bill (provides up to $2 million in previously authorized bonds for bikeways, walkways, greenways and trails)
- SB 186 (P.A. 15-100) - ATV Bill (eliminates the requirement that a first violation of a local ordinance governing dirt bike or ATV use must be a warning)
View all of CLCC’s 2015 Testimony HERE
Other Good News for the environment - Pro-environment blls passed through the budget implementer included better controls over use of pesticides, including a ban on the use of lawn-care pesticides on municipal playgrounds, and restriction on the use of microbeads (a source of water pollution) in personal care products starting in 2018.
From you ... Please thank your State Legislators and Governor Malloy for their support of these programs and initiatives -- all of which truly make a difference for the economic well-being and overall quality of life in our communities.
From us ... we've said it before, we'll say it again, and we can't say it enough: Thank you! Your active engagement with your State Legislators was key to successfully protecting these programs from further cuts, restoring those that had been eliminated completely, and helping to pass a number of pro-conservation and environment bills during a particularly difficult legislative session.
What’s next? Planning for the next legislative session starts now and your input is essential to helping us plan our 2016 Conservation Agenda. In addition to keeping in touch by e-mail and phone, please be sure to join us at one or more of our Regional Land Trust Board Summits and other roundtable events convened throughout the year around the state to share your your ideas on how we may continue to strength conservation in Connecticut.
Together we did and will continue to make a difference.
With appreciation for all you do -
Amy Blaymore Paterson