Great Lakes diversion bill put on hold


COLUMBUS - A proposal for Ohio to ratify a multistate agreement designed to restrict water diversions from the Great Lakes fell through yesterday.

The Ohio Senate refused to pass the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact unless the House first agreed to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot locking in private-property rights when it comes to water use.

But House Democrats refused to give majority Republicans the votes needed to put that amendment over the top, leaving both sides pointing at the other as to why the compact remains in dry-dock after six of the seven other Great Lakes states have approved it.

It was a day of mixed success at the Ohio Statehouse.

In other action, the House voted 88-5 to send Gov. Ted Strickland a $1.57 billion economic stimulus package, despite the chamber's concerns about some changes made in the Senate.

But the House failed to pass a compromise $1.3 billion capital budget for bricks-and-mortar projects across the state.

The end result was that legislators abandoned hopes they could wrap up business for the summer this week. They are expected to return to Columbus on June 10 to try again on the Great Lakes compact and the capital budget.

State legislators were disappointed that the long-awaited Great Lakes compact was not approved yesterday.

"Even the environmental people supported [the proposed amendment], and said they would help raise money to pass it on the ballot,'' said Senate President Bill Harris (R., Ashland). "We had an agreement.''

"It's taken five years to put together a compact proposal," said Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council. "It's taken three years to debate this in the Statehouse. What's a couple more weeks? It's like a baseball game. It's a little rain delay."

House Democrats accused their Republican colleagues of being held up by a single senator, Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), who questioned whether language in the compact could undermine current private-property rights to "reasonable use" of the water on, under, or running through land as recognized in state law, common law, and court decisions.

The Senate has refused to act on the compact despite two overwhelming votes of support in the House in two conservative legislative sessions.

Mr. Grendell's proposed constitutional amendment passed the Senate last week. It needed at least 60 of 99 House members to make the Nov. 4 ballot, but it fell two votes shy yesterday as Democrats questioned the wisdom of tinkering with the constitution.

"Let's get this right for all of the citizens of Ohio," said House Democratic Leader Joyce Beatty (D., Columbus). "I'm not there yet."

Ohio and Pennsylvania are the only Great Lakes states whose legislatures have yet to ratify the compact.

Both chambers of the Michigan Legislature have approved it, and the compact is awaiting the signature of a supportive Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

"Amendments have been put on the ballot by Democrats and their organizations that would have changed the constitution in many ways, and I've never heard any of these complaints when it's one of their issues," Mr. Grendell said. "Suddenly they are somehow protectors of the constitutional amendment process? That's ridiculous."

Senate Democrats did not share their House brethren's concern last week when they supported the proposed constitutional amendment, even if only as a way to break the logjam holding back the compact.

"It's added protection. That's how we understood this," said Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo).

The House passed the governor's economic stimulus package despite concerns about some changes made in the Senate. Among the changes was an amendment that would prevent funds earmarked for biomedical research from being used to foster human cloning.

"I have some concerns about the way the language on cloning and stem-cell research is drafted," said House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering). "But I also wanted to get the bill done because people out there are in difficult circumstances. The longer we delay, the longer we delay the recovery of our economy."

He's counting on Mr. Strickland to follow through with a promise to use his line-item veto authority to strike the cloning prohibition from the bill.

The package, heavy on new borrowing, seeks to create immediate jobs related to construction on roads, bridges, and other public works projects; cleaning up polluted industrial sites, and converting historic buildings into job generators.

It would invest in biomedical and bioproduct research and development; push solar, wind, and other advanced energy technologies, and encourage top college graduates to remain in Ohio through internships and private-public job opportunities.

The final version sent to Mr. Strickland no longer expects the Ohio Turnpike to pony up as much as $200 million to help pay for the plan.

The House voted not to agree with Senate changes made to the two-year capital budget, setting up a conference committee consisting of members from both chambers to hammer out a compromise capable of passing both chambers when they return on June 10.

In other action:

•The Senate voted 25-7 to send the governor the so-called "Castle Doctrine" bill that essentially gives the benefit of the legal doubt to an individual who kills or harms an apparent intruder. The bill shifts the burden of proof to prosecutors to show that the individual was not acting in self-defense. Mr. Strickland supports the bill, which consists of a number of changes related to Ohio's concealed-carry law.

•The House voted 93-2 to send Mr. Strickland a compromise worked out by a joint conference committee on a bill that stiffens regulations on salvage yards in order to crack down on the increasing thefts of copper piping, wiring, catalytic converters, and other products for their scrap metal value.

Contact Jim Provance at:

or 614-221-0496.