November Ballot Includes Public Land Protection Question

When voters head to the polls in November, they will not only be faced with choices for the US Senate, Congress, governor and other statewide office. They will also see proposed amendments to Connecticut’s Constitution, known as ballot questions.

One of the questions has to do with the General Assembly’s long-standing practice of transferring public lands without much debate or discussion during the regular session.

Eric Hammerling with the group Protect CT Public Lands, said he likes the autumn much more than the spring not just for going through the state’s parks, but for the role of government.

“I will often say to folks at this time of year this is a great time of year for public lands because the General Assembly is not in session.”

One example cited by Hammerling of a surprise public land transfer was the state giving the Hartford Regional Market to the Capitol Region Development Authority.

Hammerling says the question is not about the eventual use, which he says could be up for debate, but says the priority is really on the process and level of transparency that leads to a piece of land being transferred.

“My concern is that it’s not going to be done in a thoughtful way,” he said. “What can happen right now in the legislature is even if there is a public hearing at the beginning of the session, the very end of the session there are very often amendments for other public lands to be sold, swapped, or given away and there often isn’t any public input on those.”

The measure passed the General Assembly with support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Specifically, the proposed constitutional amendment would require a public hearing when a piece of public land is being considered for transfer or sale by the General Assembly. After that public hearing has been held, it would then require passage by a two thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.

That high bar, lawmakers say, is the right way to move forward.

Sen. Kevin Witkos (R – Canton) co-sponsored the measure and told NBC Connecticut in statement, “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.”

Sen. Martin Looney, the top Democrat in the Connecticut Senate said in a statement, "This amendment will provide additional protections before potentially environmentally sensitive property is sold or otherwise conveyed by the state. I hope voters that Connecticut will approve this amendment as an additional commitment to protecting our state’s quality of life."

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