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Ohio lawmakers could delay House Bill 6 fees 1 year

Rep. Dave Leland, D-Columbus, said Republicans should stop kicking the can down the road. “Ohioans shouldn’t see their utility bills go up as a result of the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history. Not now – not ever!” Leland said. “How many people have to be arrested, indicted, plead guilty, resign or be fired before Republicans will definitively say that House Bill 6 has to go?”

Jessie Balmert Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS – Ohio lawmakers could delay fees set to hit Ohioans’ electric bills next month as they continue to debate whether to repeal a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear plants. 

Rep. Jim Hoops, R-Napoleon, has proposed delaying fees for one year as lawmakers struggle to find a way to repeal and replace House Bill 6, the law at the heart of an alleged $61 million bribery scheme.

Without any change, residential customers can expect an 85-cent fee each month on their electric bills starting Jan. 1. 

Those fees, and larger ones assessed on businesses, would raise about $150 million a year for two nuclear plants outside Toledo and Cleveland owned by Energy Harbor, which was previously called FirstEnergy Solutions. That company argued that without that money, the plants would close.

In July, the FBI arrested former Speaker Larry Householder and four others in connection with an alleged scheme to help Householder gain control of the House, pass a nuclear bailout and defend that law against a ballot effort to upend it. Two defendants have pleaded guilty; Householder and two others have pleaded not guilty.

Hoops introduced the one-year delay in House Bill 798 Tuesday. The bill would give lawmakers some breathing room to decide what happens next. The FBI is still investigating the alleged corruption, and more arrests could be coming, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Dave DeVillers warned in July. 

The delay would also allow time for an audit, required under the bill, to assess how much Energy Harbor actually needs and only dole out money that allows the company to break even. Subsidies wouldn’t pay for a company’s lobbying costs, political or charitable donations, share buybacks, management bonuses or incentive compensation.

“We’re trying to figure out: Do they really need these dollars?” Hoops said.

Under the proposed changes, customers could receive refunds each year if audits show too much was collected. 

The bill would also eliminate a “decoupling” provision that guaranteed money for FirstEnergy and other utilities. Fees for two coal plants operated by Piketon-based Ohio Valley Electric Corporation would remain but the bill requires utilities to make a “good faith effort” to sell them. Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account

To take effect immediately, Hoops’ bill would need support from two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber. 

Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, said Hoops’ bill is the result of “extensive hearings and conversations and reflects feedback we have heard from our members on this complex issue.”

The bill will receive a hearing in committee Wednesday. “We’ll see where we go from there,” Cupp said in a statement. 

Rep. Dave Leland, D-Columbus, said Republicans should stop kicking the can down the road. 

“Ohioans shouldn’t see their utility bills go up as a result of the largest corruption scandal in Ohio history. Not now – not ever!” Leland said. “How many people have to be arrested, indicted, plead guilty, resign or be fired before Republicans will definitively say that House Bill 6 has to go?”

The GOP-controlled House doesn’t support a straight repeal of House Bill 6. Given the opportunity last month to repeal the law via a Democratic amendment, most GOP lawmakers rejected that option.

Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, gave a boisterous floor speech in defense of the law and his fellow Republicans. 

“There is not a single member of this chamber who has been convicted or pled guilty to a durn thing,” he said. 

Other bills to repeal a portion or all of House Bill 6 have received hearings but no votes so far. 

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Ohio Senate would review any House proposal sent to them, spokesman John Fortney said. 

Ohio Attorney General Dave YostCincinnati and Columbus have filed lawsuits to block the fees. A judge has not yet ruled on those injunctions.

Read the original article here.

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