The CT Legislature is currently in the midst of debating the bills that have arisen during this current session. Trees, and the need to manage and maintain trees, are the topic of several pieces of legislation. Not all these bills, however, are destined for full consideration by the Legislature – most, in fact are not. Legislators will often propose bills as ‘placeholders’, briefly outlining a perceived problem in the hopes that a solution can then be proposed. Often, these placeholders bills fade away as the session progresses. Either no substantive course of action arises for dealing with the indicated problem or another, similar bill is offered. Most of the bills relating to trees are placeholder bills and have already started to fade.
Town Tree Issues
One serious issue that the Legislature is grappling with is that of assisting towns with the number of dead trees along public roads. As CTPA members are well aware, the number of these trees has spiked, due to the emerald ash borer, gypsy moths, drought and other causes. Most towns simply do not have the resources to deal with the numbers of trees that that they have to.
Among the bills that have been proposed to assist towns in dealing with this problem are those that have recommended DEEP establish a grant program for tree removal but which offer no funding for this program and one that would exempt tree removal activities from the sales tax. One bill that is moving along is HB 5886, AN ACT CONCERNING THE USE OF LOCAL CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT FUND GRANTS FOR THE REMOVAL OF CERTAIN TREES. The purpose of the bill is to allow Local Capitol Improvement Funding to be used by towns for tree removal. This bill is currently before the Joint Committee on Planning and Development, with a Public Hearing scheduled for March 6.
The same language as is contained in HB 5886 is also contained in the Governor’s Budget Bill, SB 876.
Property Owner’s Liability for Fallen Trees
There are 3 other bills that are moving along that also might interest arborists. HB 7188, AN ACT CONCERNING A PROPERTY OWNER’S LIABILITY FOR THE EXPENSES OF REMOVING A FALLEN TREE OR LIMB, revives a bill that has been before the legislature several times in recent years, including having been passed in 2014, only to be vetoed by the Governor. The purpose of this bill is to establish conditions under which a tree owner could be held responsible for the clean-up of a tree that falls upon a neighbor’s property. In this discussion, the role of a Connecticut-licensed arborist is given importance, both for the arborist’s ability to identify trees with significant problems and also to indicate that the problems have been mitigated or otherwise no longer exist.
A Public Hearing on this bill was held before the Judiciary Committee on February 27th.
DOT and Trees
Another ‘public tree bill’ that has gained a great deal of attention relates to trees along state highways. Essentially, HB 5308, AN ACT CONCERNING VEGETATION MANAGEMENT ALONG STATE HIGHWAYS BY THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, would require DOT to develop specific guidelines relating to the management of trees and other vegetation along state roads. Included in the provisions of this bill is the requirement that these guidelines be reviewed by a licensed arborist employed by either DOT or DEEP.
While this bill drew strong support at its Public Hearing before the Environment Committee on February 15th, it is worth pointing out that, in its response to this bill, DOT stated that it has already produced detailed guidelines regarding that Department’s management of trees and vegetation along state roads. This document, CT DOT’s Vegetation Management Guidelines, was published in February 2018 and is readily available on the DOT website.
DOT has at least two CT licensed arborists on staff who had an active role in the development of these guidelines and will have an active role in their implementation. Nonetheless, this bill is moving forward, as it has been filed with the Legislative Commissioner’s Office and is ready to move out of Committee.
Local Pesticide Regulations
The last bill to mention is not specifically focused on trees, but on pesticide use in general. SB 76, AN ACT AUTHORIZING MUNICIPALITIES TO RESTRICT THE USE OF PESTICIDES IN CERTAIN AREAS OF THE MUNICIPALITY OR ON CERTAIN TYPES OF PROPERTIES, would give towns the ability to ban or restrict the use of pesticides that may not be banned or restricted on the state level and restrict the application of pesticides in certain areas of the municipality or on certain types of properties.
While not yet a drafted bill, the general direction of this bill has caused certain groups, such as the Connecticut Environmental Council (CT-EC) to become concerned. The thrust of CT-EC’s concern is that giving this sort of authority to local governments will diffuse the effectiveness of state-level pesticide management and regulation through DEEP and, as a result, make a mess for legitimate pesticide applicators, including licensed arborists.
Due to this concern, CT-EC is organizing a Day of Public Concern regarding this bill on Friday, March 8th at 9:30 am, in the atrium of the Legislative Office Building. CTPA is a dues-paying member of CT-EC and supports CT-EC in its efforts to educate our members and work on our behalf on key legislative issues. CT-EC and CTPA would like to see arborists join with other professionals who use pesticides in expressing their concern regarding this potential legislation.
CTPA members who wish to learn more about this specific legislation may contact:
Erica Fearn, CAE
Connecticut Environmental Council, Inc.