Once the accolades to departing members were over, at 8 p.m., the Senate got to work.
The first bill it considered was a measure that requires utility companies to obtain a property owner’s consent before trimming and removing trees on their land, and sets up a mediation process to resolve complaints.
Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, called the legislation “balanced” and “reasonable.”
It passed the chamber on a unanimous vote and now awaits Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature.
“I believe it will give confidence to ratepayers across the state that when there is tree-trimming, it is done in a fair and balanced manner,” Duff said. “It does protect our infrastructure, it keeps the lights on but does it in a way that keeps our state as beautiful…as we’ve always had it.”
Utility tree-trimming practices received a great deal of public attention and some criticism following a devastating storm in October 2011, when wide swaths of the state were plunged into darkness for more than a week. Storm Sandy, a year later, also caused prolonged power outages.
Last year, the legislature addressed tree-trimming in a sweeping energy bill, but the new legislation adds what supporters say are some needed improvements, such as the mediation panel. It also establishes a dedicated email account for property owners to relay their concerns to the utilities.
Environmental groups have been critical of what they say is overly aggressive tree-trimming and removal by utility companies and had pushed the legislature to consider more restrictions.
“This legislation will protect residents’ property rights and make it easier for them to speak up and protect public trees in their neighborhoods,” said Zachary Bestor, legal fellow at the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.
“We understand the need to balance keeping the lights on and protecting trees that clean our air and make our communities pleasant places to live, and this bill is a good start,” Bestor said. “We had hoped for more explicit protections for healthy trees, and without them, the public will need to remain vigilant in objecting to inappropriate tree cutting.”
Duff and other lawmakers who back the bill called it a good compromise.