By FARNOUSH AMIRI Report for America/Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Hopes of repealing an energy bailout law are in danger at the Ohio Statehouse as Republican lawmakers argue sharply different positions on how and whether to repeal the legislation with only weeks before Ohioans begin to pay the price.
In one corner stands veteran GOP lawmakers like Rep. Bill Seitz, ranking member of the majority party, who believes the Nov. 3 election results solidified the standing of the now-tainted bailout bill even if federal investigators found the process of its passage to be corrupt.
“There is no representative and no senator who voted yes on House Bill 6, who lost their reelection bid,” Seitz said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But many, several, at least, who voted no, lost. So what does that tell you?”
Seitz vowed to vote against any repeal bill brought to the House for a floor vote during the next four weeks of the lame duck session.
In the other corner, there are Republican Reps. Laura Lanese and Mark Romanchuk. Both lawmakers introduced a bill this past summer to repeal the law at the center of a $60 million bribery probe.
Lanese, also a ranking member in the House, pushed back on her colleague’s sentiment about the election proving not to be a referendum on what the FBI determined to be the largest bribery scheme in state history. She said her efforts to repeal the legislation actually helped her win reelection earlier this month.
“When I went out campaigning, I led with that. I said ‘I’m sure you’ve heard about the scandal in Columbus. I did not vote for it and I am leading the repeal’,” Lanese said. “You can’t quantify what kind of support I got from that but I won my seat by much higher than they thought I would win by.”
The Grove City Republican introduced the first repeal bill on July 23, two days after the arrest of then-House Speaker Larry Householder and four of his accomplices on charges of racketeering for their roles in the alleged scheme to bail out two aging nuclear power plants.
The five men are accused of shepherding $60 million in energy company money for personal and political use in exchange for passing a legislative bailout of the plants and then derailing an attempt to place a rejection of the bailout on the ballot.
Householder, also a Republican, was one of the driving forces behind the nuclear plants’ financial rescue, which added a new fee to every electricity bill in the state and directed over $150 million a year through 2026 to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo. The longtime lawmaker and two of the men charged have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In the days following the release of the affidavit, GOP lawmakers acted swiftly. A number of repeal bills were introduced and by the end of July, the majority party had voted to remove Householder as speaker and even chose his successor.
In one of his first acts as the newly-appointed speaker, Rep. Bob Cupp, of Lima, created a committee in August to oversee the future of the bailout bill. But months later, as the General Assembly is winding down in a lame duck session — passing legislation to limit the governor’s powers during a pandemic and designating the monarch butterfly as the state official butterfly — the tainted legislation remains intact, with weeks left before the law will add a fee to every electricity bill in the state on Jan. 1.
The concern for Republicans like Seitz, Cupp and committee chairman Jim Hoops is that repealing the bill outright would have unintended consequences and they need more time to understand the complex legislation.
But Romanchuk believes his colleagues had enough time to dissect the bill when it first went through the House last year. “Everybody knows what’s in this bill because we’ve already had to vote on it at one time last year,” Romanchuk, one of a number of GOP members who voted no for the bill’s passage, said. “So to deliberate further on the same policy doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
The other argument against repeal is that lawmakers would be throwing out the good with the bad. Rep. Kristin Boggs, who is one of the Democrats on the oversight committee, rejected the claim that the policy is sound.
“If it was great policy, it wouldn’t have cost so much to get it passed with bribes,” Boggs, of Columbus, said. “Great policy doesn’t need this kind of pressure to get done.”
She added, “But the pressure that exists for it to be passed in the first place continues to live at the Statehouse.”
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Photo: In this July 30, 2020 file photo Ohio House Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Butler presides over a House session as members of the Ohio House of Representatives vote to remove Rep. Larry Householder as Speaker of the House on at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. Hopes of repealing an energy bailout law are in danger at the Ohio Statehouse as Republican lawmakers argue sharply different positions on how and whether to repeal the legislation with only weeks before Ohioans begin to pay the price.