A conservation easement is an agreement in which a property owner agrees to limit the use of his or her land in perpetuity in order to protect one or more specified conservation purposes. The instruments creating the easement are recorded in the public records affecting the ownership of the property. The easement is held by a third party (holder), which monitors the use of the land and ensures that the terms of the agreement are upheld.
Current law allows a taxpayer to claim a state income tax credit for a portion of the value of a perpetual conservation easement that is granted by the taxpayer on real property located in the state. The aggregate amount of credits that may be claimed each year by all taxpayers is capped at $45 million; except that the amount of credits allowed in recent years has been substantially lower than that amount.
There is currently no centralized public source of information to identify the number, size, location, or validity of conservation easements in the state and whether the conservation purposes of the easements are being monitored and defended. The bill requires a comprehensive accounting of the conservation easements that have been created in the state since 1998. The state auditor shall contract with an independent contractor to perform the accounting. The accounting includes information about the instruments creating each easement, the size and location of each easement, the grantors and holders of each easement, tax credits claimed for the donation of each easement, and whether the conservation purposes of each easement are being protected. The accounting includes the creation of a corresponding map showing the location of each conservation easement in the state.
Certain public entities are encouraged to provide information and input into the preparation of the accounting. The state auditor is directed to review the accounting and present it at a public meeting to the legislative audit committee by a specified date. The committee is required to conduct a subsequent meeting to allow public testimony on the accounting. The auditor is further directed to annually update the information in the accounting and make it available to the public on the auditor's website.
(Note: This summary applies to this bill as introduced.)