2018 Legislative Session Update as of 5/3/18

 Conservation Agenda 2018

Updated as of 5/3/18

Scroll down to end for Federal Omnibus Spending Bill Update and other National News

View most recent Action Alert regarding SJ35 and State Water Plan >>

View CLCC's testimony to date >>

Introduction

The Connecticut Land Conservation Council (CLCC) advocates for land conservation, stewardship and funding, and works to ensure the long-term strength and viability of the state’s land conservation community. Among CLCC’s constituents are land trusts (there are 137+ in Connecticut), municipal conservation commissions, garden clubs, and local and statewide conservation advocacy groups – each managed, supported, and governed by concerned residents. CLCC is a primary resource and voice for land conservation issues statewide.

CLCC believes that strong and sustainable land conservation is essential to a healthy environment and strong economy. Land conservation plays a crucial role in protecting and enhancing water quality, ensuring clean air, creating wildlife habitats, offsetting impacts of climate change, enabling access to locally grown foods and products, and providing opportunities for the public to enjoy the natural, scenic, cultural, historic and esthetic qualities of the environment for generations to come.

Land is a finite resource. Once gone, it’s gone forever; and it is the responsibility and moral obligation of our current generation to ensure that future generations receive the same benefits derived from land conservation that we enjoy today. 

CLCC works with, and encourages our constituents and partners to work with, members of the legislature on policy issues impacting land conservation in Connecticut. To that end, CLCC intends to pursue the following legislative and policy priorities in the 2018 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

2018 State Legislative and Policy Priorities

Support Funding and Staff for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Open Space and other Programs

While approval of the Passport to the Parks Program as part of the FY18-19 state budget was essential to provide much needed dedicated funding to State Parks, we remain deeply concerned about the short and long-term impacts that cumulative annual cuts to DEEP’s budget will continue to have on the agency’s ability to implement core programs and undertake key functions – with the potential to cause irreversible damage to the state’s quality of clean air, water, wildlife, and recreational resources.   

CLCC priorities with respect to funding for DEEP’s programming for 2018 include:

  • ENSURE consistent and increased funding for state land conservation programs including Open Space & Watershed Land Acquisition Program (OSWA), Recreation and Natural Heritage Trust Program (RNHT), and Recreational Trails & Greenways Program (Rec Trails).

Status:  While the current budget (FY 18-19) did not include new bond authorizations for OSWA and RNHT, there is still previously authorized but unallocated bonding available which we continue to push to have released. The RNHT program received $7.5 million in previously authorized bonding in December which will help DEEP to acquire land for conservation and passive recreational purposes. The OSWA program has not received any new bond allocations and continues to rely exclusively on the Community Investment Act for funding.

Good news:  With regard to new bonding for the Rec Trails Program, SB 424 passed out of the Environment Committee, albeit reducing the bonding amount in the bill from $12 million to $3 million.  More on SB 424 >>

 Status:  The $3 million bonding provision was incorporated into Joint Favorable Substitute of SB 12.  The text of SB 424  is now limited to the provision that certain lands be incorporated into Patchaug Forest in Griswold in the event such lands are acquired by the State. 

PROTECT the Community Investment Act, which generates funding for state programs for open space, farmland/dairy production, historic preservation and affordable housing. Enhance public awareness of the importance of the fund and ensure that the integrity and level of funding are protected.

Status:  Although the Governor’s budget adjustments (HB 5035 and SB 6) do not call for cuts to or diversions from the CIA, we will need to continue to be vigilant as the proposals are debated by the legislature. In particular, the Governor does reference $25 million in cuts to the CIA as a source of revenue in the event the legislature chooses not to adopt his proposed adjustments. More on the CIA >>

Alert:  CLCC opposes SB 338, which would add a new category of grants to DEEP's share of the CIA fund to address lake invasives. While we strongly agree that invasive species pose a serious and growing threat to lakes, as well as other aquatic and terrestrial environments throughout the state, we contend that using CIA funds to address this problem is not the solution and will only serve to undermine the efficacy of the program. We are currently working with legislators on an alternative proposal to address invasive species control. View CLCC's testimony in opposition to SB 338 >>

Update as of 4/24/18:  SB338 did not make it out of the Appropriations Committee.  We will continue to monitor all proposals which impact the CIA.

  • ENSURE Passport to the Parks funds operations and maintenance of State Parks at a sustainable level to keep State Parks and campgrounds open.

Status:  A new program created by the state biennial budget adopted last year, Passport to the Parks is intended to generate dedicated revenues to support the operation and maintenance of our State Parks.

Good news:  Consistent with this legislative intent, SB 429 would set up the Passport to the Parks as a non-lapsing account rather than an appropriated fund, ensuring a consistent source of funding for the program outside the timing of the general budget process. SB 429 passed out of the Environment Committee. 

More on SB 429 >>

Pursue Enabling Legislation for Municipal Land Conservation & Stewardship Funding Program

PURSUE legislation enabling select municipalities to collect up to 1% of real estate conveyance fee on buyers to support local open space and farmland acquisition as well as park, forest and trail management projects.

Status:  Bad News!  Unfortunately, SB181 did not make it out of the Planning and Development Committee this year.  More on SB 181 >> and our update to supporters of the bill >>

Pursue a Constitutional Amendment to Better Protect Public Lands

ENSURE the second passage of a Constitutional Amendment bill that protects public lands from being conveyed without appropriate public process and compensation.

Status:  The GAE Committee passed SJ 35 to amend the state constitution to protect Public Lands on Friday (3/23) with unanimous support. More on SJ 35 >>  

Urgent Action Alert:  As of 5/3/18, there are over 60 co-sponsors of S.J.35!  Great work!  Thank-you.  But we need to keep up the momentum in order to get the resolution passed by 3/4 vote in both chambers!  Please contact your legislators with a short personal note or phone call ASAP, and ask them to co-sponsor SJ 35, "Resolution Proposing an Amendment to the State Constitution to Protect Real Property Held or Controlled by the State."   View most UTD Action Alert >>

      • If your Legislator(s) have already co-sponsored SJ 35 (view list of co-sponsors of SJ 35 by scrolling to bottom of this page >>), please thank them!  
      • If your Legislator(s) co-sponsored similar resolutions in 2016 or 2017, you can reminder them of this and encourage them to become co-sponsors again. 
      • If you contacted your Legislator(s) and they have not responded, or were non-commital, please contact them again with a polite follow-up.

Support Programs which Protect and Enhance the Viability of Working Lands

4/24/18:  CLCC submitted a letter to the Environment Committee supporting a proposal to amend SB102 or a similar piece of legislation to authorize the Department of Agriculture to undertake "Buy-Protect-Sell" projects in collaboration with land trusts and other conservation organizations.  View our letter >>

Protection of Class I and II Watershed Lands

Support State Water Plan:  Connecticut’s first State Water Plan was the subject of a joint hearing with the Environment, Planning and Development, Public Health, and Energy and Technology Committees on Tuesday, April 17.  The plan shapes how the state regulates all water resources, and includes detailed information on state water resources and priorities related to drinking water, protection of watershed lands, and conservation. It also references water as a public trust resource. With the weakening of federal protections it is more important than ever to adopt a state water plan.  Update as of 5/3/18:  As reported tonight by Margaret Miner of Rivers Alliance of CT, the State Water Plan is not moving forward this year.  We'll publish a link to the full report as soon as it is available.  

View Action Alert with links to more information >>

View CLCC's Testimony >>

Oppose Tilcon Proposal:  The city of New Britain seeks to lease approximately 70 acres of the city’s water department’s Class I and II land in Plainville to Tilcon for the purpose of rock mining. CLCC is concerned that permitting the project to move forward will undercut the strict protections on Class I and II lands currently accorded under state law, not only posing a risk of adverse impacts to highly valuable water supplies and surrounding environs, but also setting a dangerous precedent for further erosion of such laws and for requests for similar activities from others in the future.  

View Action Alert with links to more information >>

View CLCC's Comments >>  

Note: SB 502, the Annual Conveyance Act once again contained provisions which were of concern.  View our testimony >>

 

Federal Policy Updates

Three Bills Threaten Federal Public Lands Protections:  (From The Nature Conservancy) H.R. 3990, H.R. 4532, and H.R. 4558 would make permanent the recent, controversial shrinking of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments into law, fundamentally change the Antiquities act, and put our national monuments at risk.  Read more >>
 
Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act:  The Land Trust Alliance reported that a bipartisan companion bill to HR 4459 was introduced in the U.S. Senate on February 15, 2018. Both bills seek to address the problem of abusive syndicated conservation easement transactions. Read more >>
 

Congress approved and the administration signed into law a $1.3 trillion spending bill on March 23, 2018, which includes the following with respect to land conservation:

Source:  Senator Christopher Murphy staff update, March  22, 2018

  • $1.038 billion for the Natural Resource Conservation Service—an $8 million increase over last fiscal year’s spending level, including $774.4 million for Conservation Technical Assistance;
  • $425 million for Land and Water Conservation Funds—a $25 million increase over last fiscal year’s spending level;
  • $10 million for the Highlands Conservation Act—exclusively for projects in the “Highlands Region” in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania;
  • Reauthorization of the Highlands Conservation Act—The Highlands Conservation Act was originally passed in 2004 and was authorized for ten years. The authorization for the program lapsed in 2014. The omnibus spending bill the House and Senate are considering this week includes H.R.1281, which authorizes the program until 2021.

Not making it into the bill are several anti-Endangered Species Act provisions and various provisions to weaken the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. 

The Connecticut Land Conservation Council advocates for land conservation, stewardship and funding, and works to ensure the long-term strength and viability of the land conservation community in Connecticut.

www.ctconservation.org

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