Voters in Toledo, Ohio went to the polls Tuesday to decide the fate of a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” ballot proposition, which would extend the legal rights of the Ohio Constitution to an inanimate object.
The referendum is the result of a years-long effort to clean up Lake Erie that begin in 2014 after more than 400,000 Toledo residents were told to stop drinking their tap water. According to Michigan Public Radio, a “bright green mass” called cyanobacteria encircled portions of the lake and produced a toxin known as microcystin, which can cause rashes, liver damage, and vomiting if consumed.
If passed, the referendum would likely be struck down in the courts, but its placement on the ballot marks an “unprecedented” development nonetheless, according to University of Toledo law professor Ken Kilbert.
“This is pretty unprecedented in the U.S. with respect to providing standing or rights for an inanimate object,” Kilbert told ABC 13. “I think it does have some legal flaws and may well suffer the fate of defeat in the court.”
Markie Miller of Toledoans for Safe Water said her group will rework the wording of the document and work to get it replaced on the ballot if it is voted down.
“I think the whole point of doing this was to get something that had some teeth and had some power to it,” she said.
The document itself invokes several articles of the Ohio State Constitution to establish the “irrevocable rights for the Lake Erie Ecosystem to exist, flourish and naturally evolve.”
“We the people of the City of Toledo find that this emergency requires shifting public governance from policies that urge voluntary action, or that merely regulate the amount of harm allowed by law over a given period of time, to adopting laws which prohibit activities that violate fundamental rights which, to date, have gone unprotected by government and suffered the indifference of state-chartered for-profit corporation,” the proposition states.
It further declares it “unlawful for any corporation or government to violate the rights recognized and secured by this law,” and states that the “Lake Erie Ecosystem may enforce its rights, and this law’s prohibitions, through an action prosecuted either by the City of Toledo or a resident or residents of the city.”
“Thus it has become necessary that we reclaim, reaffirm, and assert our inherent and inalienable rights, and to extend legal rights to our natural environment in order to ensure that the natural world, along with our values, our interests, and our rights, are no longer subordinated to the accumulation of surplus wealth and unaccountable political power,” it adds.
This story will be updated after the results of Tuesday’s vote are in.
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