Will the Ohio legislature's action during this lame-duck session put anything into Ohioans' Christmas stockings?
I'm happy legislators just passed bills to honor Toni Morrison and the Monarch butterfly. The House blessed a new funding formula for Ohio public schools. It will need passage from the Senate, and the governor's signature. Hard to say if this will happen or not. It needs to. It's been 20 years since the Ohio Supreme Court ruled the current funding formula unconstitutional. Yes, you read that correctly.
Then there's scandal-plagued HB 6. It gave a billion-dollar handout to First Energy, engineered by former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford), now indicted for his alleged role in a $61 million bribery scheme to assure its passage.
Immediately after the alleged bribery scheme surfaced, consensus thinking was the bill would be repealed, given its taint. Some Republicans slowed the effort, saying they wanted to retain portions of the bill. Rep. Robert Cupp (R-Lima), elected to replace Householder as speaker, formed a committee to study options. Rep. Dick Stein (R-Norwalk), who represents Avon and other Lorain County rural communities, is a member of the bipartisan group.
Despite a lot of jawing, there's been no significant action to keep First Energy's hands off our wallets.
As a result, 5 million Ohio households will be charged 85 cents on January electric bills and each monthly bill through the end of 2027. That is what the legislature's inaction will give you for Christmas – like 2020 hasn't been bad enough. Ohio businesses – which have been crushed by COVID – will be hammered with even larger fees.
Last week Rep. Jim Hoops (R-Napoleon) attempted to throw a lifeline to colleagues by introducing legislation to delay payments by one year to the First Energy subsidiary that runs the two flailing nuke plants.
It's not known whether Hoops can rally votes to move the measure to the floor. Two-thirds of the House needs to vote in favor of it. It then can head to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is also needed. I'm not saying it cannot happen. I am saying it's an uphill battle and we're in the fourth quarter with the clock ticking and no timeouts left. In truth, the bill resolves nothing. I agree with critics who say it's just kicking the can down the road.
There is a group in the House that wants HB 6 repealed. Period. Members believe it would help restore trust among Ohioans who were shocked to learn that $41 million allegedly changed hands to score a sweet deal for a company with a failed business model and place fixing it onto our backs.
It should be repealed this session. New legislation can be introduced in January to create a repayable loan program available to First Energy, or any other utility. The bill should require that First Energy provide documentation demonstrating need. The company never produced it when HB 6 was under consideration and that lack of transparency caused several local legislators to vote against the bill, including Dave Greenspan (R-Westlake) and Gayle Manning (R-North Ridgeville).
If lawmakers do not repeal HB 6, given its taint, a coal-filled stocking is warranted. Oh, wait. Some might not “get it” given that two coal plants – one in Indiana – also benefited from HB 6. Perhaps, a daintily wrapped box of stinky, dead fish will do.
In the end, it may be Attorney General Dave Yost who keeps himself off the naughty list. He's filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction preventing First Energy from getting funds from HB 6. Ho-ho-hope he is successful.
Michele Murphy is a freelance writer. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.