Connecticut lawmakers have introduced several bills that would expand the state’s and local housing authorities’ eminent domain powers for environmental protection purposes, as well as the creation of bike paths.
H.B. 6593 — An Act Concerning Housing Authority Jurisdiction — would “allow a housing authority to expand its jurisdiction to include other municipalities,” and gives housing authorities the “right” to acquire “real property that is not located in an expanded area of operation which it deems necessary for its purposes.”
The bill was met with heavy opposition at the Housing Committee’ Feb. 7 public hearing, primarily over local and regional municipalities losing approval powers over the “expanded area of operation.” Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST), testified against the legislation, urging lawmakers to amend the bill to include a provision that would give municipalities control over “an agreement authorizing such housing authority to operate in the municipality as an expanded area of operation.”
Meanwhile, Connecticut Realtors, the largest trade association in the state, also opposed the bill, submitting, “If an individual housing authority should wish to extend its territory said authority would first have to demonstrate all its goals have been met throughout the geographic area already assigned. There is already a process in place to request addition of additional jurisdiction.”
Despite criticisms, the bill passed 10-5 and is now with the Legislative Commissioner’s Office.
Similarly, H.B. 5917 — An Act Implementing the Recommendations of the Vision Zero Council — passed favorably 22-14 by the Transportation Committee. However, support for the legislation was far more prevalent during the Jan. 30 public hearing, with proponents citing the bill lays “out actionable, measurable strategies to drastically reduce fatalities, while increasing the safety and mobility of our roadways,” as stated by Lt. Col. Kenneth Cain of the Connecticut State Police.
Yet in the Vision Zero Council’s recommendations is a provision that would allow the Department of Transportation commissioner to “take any land” he or she “finds necessary for the layout, alteration, extension, widening, change of grade or other improvement of any state highway, bicycle lane or multi use-trail or for a highway maintenance storage area or garage.”
Yankee Institute President Carol Platt Liebau testified in person opposing the use of eminent domain for bicycle lanes and other projects saying, “The bill demonstrates no public need to take private property.”
“Abusing eminent domain to favor elite groups or political causes is exactly what prompted the public backlash in the Kelo v. New London case,” Liebau said. “Handing unelected unaccountable bureaucrats the power to seize private property for the exclusive benefit of cyclists is wrong. People must know their individual property rights are protected here in Connecticut.”
More recently, lawmakers heard public testimony March 10 on S.B. 114 — An Act Concerning the State’s Property Acquisition and Condemnation Authority for Certain Flood Prevention, Climate Resilience and Erosion Control Systems. If passed, the bill would “establish authority for the state to take real property, by eminent domain and condemnation” to achieve the goals as mentioned in its title.
Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environment Protection (DEEP), voiced her support, saying the bill “will improve the state’s ability to address its coastal and inland resilience challenges as we invest an unprecedented level of federal funding” as well as “clarify the process for agencies with existing acquisition authorities.”
But opponents — such as Gara from COST — believe the bill goes too far regarding eminent domain, testifying it will “negatively impact property rights and housing values, triggering issues with respect to property tax revenues.” She also questioned how the bill better positions Connecticut to receive federal funding to complete flood prevention, climate resilience and erosion control projects.
While lawmakers decide on how government agencies will be able to take private property for public use, Connecticut has a housing shortage of “more than 85,000 rental homes that are both affordable and available,” according to the “FY 2024 – FY 2025 Biennium Economic Report of the Governor.”
However, not all proposed bills regarding private property expands the state’s eminent domain authority, including H.B. 5287 and H.B. 5036. The former would “give a former owner of real property taken by eminent domain the opportunity to buy back the real property,” while the latter would “prohibit the state and municipal governments from exercising the use of eminent domain for commercial purposes.” However, the likelihood of either bill passing is slim as no public hearings have been scheduled.