2018 Legislative Session Re-Cap
Conservation Agenda 2018
UPDATED AS OF JUNE 15, 2018
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.
Re-cap Good News: (HB 5590) With regard to funding for the Rec Trails Program, a $3 million bond authorization was included in the bonding package that passed on the last day of the session; it's contained in Section 19 of the amended bill.
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: Due to years of cuts and diversions from the CIA, agencies have been forced to work with reduced fund balances that have restricted the timing and volume of program activity across all four CIA sectors -- resulting in a growing list of unfunded needs and projects across the state. As a reminder: In 2015, the legislature passed a measure to divert fifty percent of recording fee revenue from reaching the CIA accounts, an action that, per formula, resulted in a seventy percent cut in funding in the four core program areas. In 2016, the final budget agreement swept unallocated funds from the CIA accounts to remedy general revenue shortfalls. In 2017, although full funding was restored July 1st, the CIA account once again suffered a $5 million cut as part of deficit mitigation adjustments at the end of the special session.
Re-cap Good News, with caution: (SB543)
- Budget Adjustment - Good news. SB543 did not include any additional cuts to the Community Investment Act.
- Budget Adjustment - Caution and Vigilance. The agencies are still dealing with the impacts from the $5 million cut across all four sectors approved in 2017 (PA17-2 Section 697). However, we recently learned that the $5 million cut to the CIA which was approved in 2017 (PA17-2, Section 697) was not implemented proportionately among the four sectors. For FY 2018, DEEP was cut by ~$2.3 million, while the other three agencies (DECD, DOH, DoAG) were cut by ~$900,000. The explanation provided for this discrepancy is that the $1.4 million appropriation for dairy support was funded through DEEP's share of the $5 million cut; the reduction will reportedly be made up through bonding. We are in discussions with DEEP regarding the timing for the bonding. Please stay tuned. View article from Greenwich Times >> For Fiscal year 2019, SB 543, section 50 appears to address that issue by requiring a proportionate reduction of funding of each of the programs to achieve the $5 million to the General Fund. Consequently, each of the sectors will be cut by $1 million. We will continue to be vigilant and watch for any new threats to the CIA. View the CIA Coalition's End-of-Session Letter to the CGA >>
- Integrity of the Fund - Good news. As previously reported, CLCC opposed SB 338, which would have added a new category of grants to DEEP's share of the CIA fund to address lake invasives. The bill made it out of the Environment Committee but did not make it on the Senate calendar. We expect the issue to be raised again next year. 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 will continue to work with legislators on an alternative proposal to address invasive species control. View CLCC's testimony in opposition to SB 338 >>
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.
Re-cap 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 was approved by both chambers of the Legislature and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor.
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.
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.
Re-Cap Good News: SJ 35 passed the House by a 118-32 vote -- enough to place the public lands protection question on the ballot in November.
Other Bills impacting public lands
Proposed Sale of Seaside State Park: SB 252, An Act Requiring the Sale of the Former Seaside Regional Center. CLCC was opposed to this bill which would have required the state to sell 34-acres of public land located on Long Island Sound in Waterford.
Re-Cap Good News: SB252 did not make it out of the Government Administration and Elections Committee
View our testimony on this bill >>
Conveyance Bill: SB 502, the Annual Conveyance Act once again contained provisions which were of concern.
Re-Cap: While we raised concerns with the Conveyance process, CLCC did not actively oppose any of the individual provisions in the bill this year, which passed as amended.
Support Programs which Protect and Enhance the Viability of Working Lands
Status: On 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.
Re-Cap Good News: The CGA passed HB 5360 - An Act Concerning Revisions to Certain Environmental Quality and Conservation Programs of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which included a provision to authorize the Department of Agriculture to undertake "Buy-Protect-Sell" projects.
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.
Re-Cap Bad News: The State Water Plan is not moving forward this year. View more insights from Rivers Alliance of CT >>
Ongoing: 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.
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.