Ohioans fight Lake Erie Bill of Rights movement

Stacey Hartley • Jul 14, 2019 at 7:00 PM

Ohioans are claiming the recently approved Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) infringes on their constitutional rights, so much so, they’re going to sue to stop it.

According to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF,) the bill would establish legally enforceable rights for Lake Erie — the 11th largest lake on Earth. 

In the wake of residents from the Toledo area collecting nearly 3,000 signatures and filing lawsuits to recognize and protect the legal rights of ecosystems, state agencies are doing some lawyering-up of their own.

Ohio’s CELDF reportedly aims “to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights — building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international level.” But perhaps more importantly, it will be representing seven area communities (Youngstown, Toledo and Columbus, Portage, Medina, Athens and Meigs counties) that want to remove several ‘Right’s of Nature’ laws from ballots, in federal court.

“The complaint alleges these officials have violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights of freedom of speech, right of assembly, right to petition the government for redress of grievances, right to vote, right of due process, and right of local, community self-government” Tish O’Dell, the organizer for Ohio’s CELDF, shared.  

Susie Beiersdorfer, the lawsuit’s Youngstown plaintiff, said: “When the very government that is violating the people’s rights is blocking them from making change, we cannot accept this. We need to challenge it and protect our right to self-govern. In Ohio we need to protect our right to direct democracy through the initiative process. That is what this lawsuit is about.”

O’Dell included that the complaint says that the entire Ohio ballot initiative process is a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. It states that unelected administrative election boards (in the executive branch) have turned away ballot initiatives based on their content, thus usurping the powers of the judicial branch. The courts, in upholding those decisions, have been complicit in defendants’ unlawful actions.”

A Research and Communications Associate with CELDF reported the Lake Erie Bill of Rights was taken to federal court by a corporation that argues the local law violates its constitutional “rights” as a corporate “person.”

Following a delayed vote by the Ohio legislature to ban part or all recent ‘Right’s of Nature,’ Gov. Mike DeWine proposed a H2Ohio plan allocating $900 million to invest in Lake Erie (and other Ohio waterways)’s health.

“By attempting to ban ‘Rights of Nature’ enforcement, the state has delegitimized itself,” said CELDF’s Ohio organizer, Tish O’Dell. “The people of Toledo have exposed the truth. No one is protecting the Lake.”

Three Toledoans who said they worked on the campaign to pass the Lake Erie Bill of Rights recently took action in Lucas County Common Pleas court that they believe could help it from being invalidated, according to the Toledo Blade.

Michael Ferner, of Point Place; Bryan Twitchell, of West Toledo, and John Michael Durback, also of West Toledo, said in a complaint that the citizens of Toledo deserve a court order that affirms the validity of the ballot initiative, which calls for Lake Erie to be recognized as an ecosystem with rights to exist and flourish without threat of being degraded by pollution, The Blade reported.

The target of the complaint is the state of Ohio and its attorney general, Dave Yost, who have signed on to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the agricultural community immediately after 61 percent of the voters participating in a Feb. 26 special election passed the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

The newly filed complaint from the three Toledo activists comes in the aftermath of those suits, as well as a budget bill now pending in the Ohio General Assembly which contains a provision which could nullify the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, The Blade reported.

Yost called the filing a “junk lawsuit,” according to The Blade.

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