COLUMBUS - The Ohio House yesterday voted 81-5 to jump-start a bill designed to give eight states and two Canadian provinces the power to prevent diversion of increasingly valuable Great Lakes water.
But the celebration, just the second in any legislative chamber among the affected governments, could be short-lived. Opposition awaits the bill in the Senate over provisions that critics argue could undermine property rights.
In a flurry of other legislative activity yesterday, the Senate also approved a bill designed to give Ohioans stronger tools to access government records.
"Today we have an opportunity to exercise leadership," said Rep. Matthew Dolan (D., Novelty) of the Great Lakes compact.
"We're saying to the other Great Lakes states: Follow our lead. Accept this legislation as the model," he said.
Once ratified, the compact would need the approval of Congress, which would decide whether to relinquish its authority over the Great Lakes, which hold 95 percent of the country's fresh surface water.
While the compact would generally set principles for controlling new and increased taking of water for business and other use, it leaves it to the individual states to establish the rules under which they would hold up their ends of the bargain.
Mr. Dolan noted the water restrictions wouldn't kick in unless someone diverts at least 100,000 gallons a day.
"That's enough to serve a subdivision of 350 homes plus its Olympic-sized pool," he said. "Most of us are going to be completely unaffected by this."
Despite the lopsided House victory, Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland) predicted the bill would not make it out of the Senate before lawmakers bring the two-year session to an end next week.
"I believe the majority of the senators believe we have to address the issues I've raised with this compact, that have been raised by the Wisconsin Senate, the New York House, and the Indiana legislature," he said.
Mr. Grendell argues that a provision declaring the waters of the five Great Lakes to be "part of the public trust" would convert existing private property rights to the public domain. He also contends federal law already prohibits water diversion.
"None of these other states are going to approve this compact this month," he said. "There is no critical deadline other than Bob Taft leaving office, and that's not a good enough reason to leap off a cliff."
Jerry Tinianow, executive director for Audubon Ohio, urged lawmakers to keep their eye on the "big picture."
"We need to get this done in Ohio to protect Ohio's water resources and to set the stage for other states to adopt the compact," he said.
The Ohio Senate, meanwhile, voted 31-1 to allow residents to recoup their attorney fees from local governments attempting to thwart Ohio's Open Records Law. The measure would require government officials to be trained in the law's requirements.
The sole negative vote belonged to Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland), who objected to a provision that would allow journalists to view county sheriffs' lists of those with permits to carry concealed handguns but would prohibit them from making copies of those lists.
The bill returns to the House for approval of Senate changes.