Sunday, April 1, 2012

More recreational land use liability

Remember how recreational land use reform was supposed to be a foregone conclusion after last legislative session? Well, it's not. There's a new bill SB 445. It seeks to undo a bunch of the good stuff that happen last time around. My reading is that the bill last time, PL 11-211, exempted activities and owners from liability except in cases of recklessness or gross negligence. This new bad bill seems to remove different types of lands, like sidewalks, boardwalks and beaches from the exemption.

Here's a letter that Dario and I sent to the Judiciary Committee:

March 29, 2012
Joint Committee on Judiciary
Room 2500, Legislative Office Building
Hartford, CT 06106
 Members of the Judiciary Committee,
Last year the Connecticut General Assembly made the right decision by reforming municipal recreational liability in our state. Municipalities and quasi-public agencies like the Metropolitan District Commission can continue to keep their lands open to the public for recreational enjoyment without the fear of lawsuits except in the most unreasonable or reckless circumstances. This is a win for people who enjoy the outside as well as for tax or rate payers. 
SB 445, AN ACT CONCERNING LIABILITY FOR THE RECREATIONAL USE OF LAND, seeks to undo the progress made last year by exempting areas such as beaches, boardwalks and sidewalks from the lands immune from normal negligence claims. Much of the testimony last year encouraging reform came from people who enjoy using walking paths or bike paths. This bill would revert to the bad old days of two years ago and encourage trails to be closed once more. 
We urge the Judiciary Committee to vote this bill down. This same issue was addressed last year and an almost unanimous legislature listened to the people and their desire to keep our parks and woods open to public use. Please respect that and vote down SB 445.

Here's CTNEMBA's take:

Please Send Comments Opposing SB. 445 to the Judiciary Committee.Last year NEMBA, along with many other outdoor and environmental organizations, succeeded in strengthening the protections offered to landowners and municipalities who allowed free public access to their lands and trails.   The bill successfully became law last year. P.L. 11-211 -- a great victory for the trails community.Now there are efforts to cut back protections offered to municipalities that allow free and public recreation on their land..  A new bill, SB. 445, is currently in the Judiciary Committee that would exempt boardwalks, beaches and sidewalks from municipal protection.  The JC will make a determination by Monday about whether to let it go on to the state senate.  Yesterday, I gave testimony along side our other partners in theConnecticut trails community, and now I ask your help too.We urge CT mountain bikers (and anyone who enjoys open space) to contact the Judiciary Committee chair and other committee members and ask them to oppose “SB. 445- An Act Concerning Liability for the Recreational Use of Land.”Consider mentioning the following points in your own words
  • The process of strengthening of the Recreational Use Statute was thorough and exhaustive. P.L. 11-211 passed overwhelmingly and was the result of widespread bipartisan support. There is no need to revisit this legislation at such an early date.  
  • Exempting boardwalks, beaches and sideways from the protections would once again make municipalities consider not allowing public recreation on their lands. It would make them consider not investing in more open space since to do so would increase their liability concerns.  
  • Boardwalks on primitive natural surface singletrack trails are simple structures, sometimes only a couple of planks of wood laying over a patch of mud. They are low-impact structures designed to protect the wetland resource and allow people more easy traverse a muddy section of trail. They should not be made the target of slip and fall litigation.  
  • Beaches can be interpreted as any rocky or sandy access point to a water body, be it an inland stream or pond or the Long Island Sound. Exempting beaches from liability protections would make municipalities consider preventing free public access to their waterways. 
  • Sidewalks may abutt or be part of paved bikepaths. They should not become a liability target that would dissuade municipalities from creating more bike facilities. 
Please send your comments to members of the Judiciary Committee by Sunday night, April 1st.Here’s how to contact members of the Judiciary Committee: read SB 445:

Time may be running out to contact the Judiciary, but you can always contact your State Rep or Senator to tell them to vote against the bill if it makes it into their committee or to a floor vote (hopefully it doesn't make it to a floor vote).

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