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Ohio court rejects final Lake Erie Bill of Rights ballot challenge

The Ohio Supreme Court has denied what appears to be the final possible challenge aimed at keeping the proposed Lake Erie Bill of Rights off Toledo’s Feb. 26 special election ballot.

In a decision filed Wednesday, the state’s highest court rejected Toledoan Josh Abernathy’s expedited request to have the Lucas County Board of Elections reverse the action it took in late December. Elections board members said back then that they were grudgingly voting in favor of placing the matter before voters at the advice of their attorney, and passed the motion by a 3-0 vote.

With that, the elections board ended the months-long debate by doing the same for the proposed Lake Erie Bill of Rights as it did for the Keep the Jail Downtown Toledo’s initiative in November. Both will be on the Feb. 26 ballot.

The elections board validated 6,438 of some 10,000 signatures that Toledoans for Safe Water — the group behind the Lake Erie Bill of Rights — submitted before the deadline. Similarly, it validated 7,764 of the 10,583 signatures Keep the Jail in Downtown Toledo submitted. In both cases, 5,244 signatures from registered voters were needed.

The Lake Erie group’s ballot proposal calls for a vote to amend the Toledo City Charter in a way that declares the Lake Erie watershed has legal rights to “exist and flourish.” It would give the world’s 11th largest body of water rights as an ecosystem that citizens may be legally entitled to defend.

Toledoans for Safe Water has said the group’s ballot initiative was drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has worked with communities in at least 10 states to enact what are known as “rights to nature” laws.

The national legal-defense fund, based in Mercersburg, Pa., also does work in Nepal, India, Cameroon, Colombia, Australia, and other countries.

Much like another local group — Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie — Toledoans for Safe Water was created in response to the region’s 2014 water crisis. It had about 40 volunteers collecting signatures from registered Toledo voters the past two years.


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