Committee adjourns on eve of deadline to repeal bailout law

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — On the eve of a deadline, the Ohio House committee set up to determine the fate of the law now tainted by a $60 million federal bribery investigation adjourned for the coming weeks with no immediate plans for repeal in place.

Lawmakers left Wednesday's hearing of the House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight with no projected timeline of repealing or replacing the bailout legislation that passed last year in a process federal prosecutors called the ‘largest bribery, money-laundering scheme’ in state history.

Starting Jan. 1, the law will add a fee to every electricity bill in the state, and direct over $150 million a year, through 2026, to two nuclear plants near Cleveland and Toledo. House lawmakers had until Thursday to repeal the law in order to avoid the fees that will begin to be charged to 90% of the state’s electric consumers starting in the new year.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit last week in an effort to block the two nuclear plants from collecting the fees on the electricity bill if the Legislature does not act in time.

The committee has been the scene of heightened tensions between the state's two political parties since the chamber's former House speaker and four of his associates were accused of shepherding energy company money for personal and political use as part of an effort to pass the legislation, then kill any attempt to repeal it at the polls. All five men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Rep. David Leland, the ranking Democrat on the House committee, has been pushing for action before the Thursday deadline for weeks.

“House Republicans are going to let October 1st go by without doing anything to stop this ratepayer rip-off," Leland said in a statement this week. "That means, in the middle of a global pandemic and an unemployment crisis, House Republicans are going to make hardworking Ohioans pay more on their utility bills.”

Leland also criticized that proponent testimonies for the repeal bills are from the same entities that testified for the bill's passage last year.

Newly elected House Speaker Bob Cupp, who created the committee last month, said he wants to untangle the legislation “expeditiously” but also with care, as to prepare for any ramifications of the repeal.

The only way for lawmakers to ensure their constituents do not see the additional fee on their electric bill in January is for an emergency clause on the repeal, which would require 66 members voting in favor of it. Currently, 58 out of 99 House members have signed on to cosponsor bills that would repeal the law.

While lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have agreed the law and the process to which it was passed was corrupt, they have not proposed any concrete legislation to replace it with.

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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.