| The Columbus Dispatch
Bribery case explained: What to know about Larry Householder, HB6
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four alleged co-conspirators were arrested and charged in a racketeering and bribery case.
Ohio’s Republican representatives agree that a law authorizing $1 billion in taxpayer money to bail out two nuclear power plants was tainted by an indictment of its leading advocate on federal bribery and racketeering charges.
But they don’t agree on much else.
Some House Republicans want to keep the law, calling it good public policy despite the scandal. Others want to scrap the nuclear, coal and solar subsidies in House Bill 6 while keeping the part lowering Ohio’s renewable energy standards. And a bipartisan bill in the Senate would repeal the whole thing.
“I don’t think they know what they’re going to do … ,” said Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus. “I think there’s a conflict in their caucus.”
Time is running out.
The 133rd General Assembly ends in December, which means any outstanding bills have to start from the beginning in 2021. And Ohioans will start paying toward those nuclear bailouts in January.
That’s why the Ohio Senate took an unusual step Tuesday, holding informal hearings on a bill that has yet to have its first hearing in the House.
“We only have about six weeks left until the end of the year,” said Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina. “We can’t wait around for them to send us a bill on Dec. 10.”
More: How FBI agents posed as Cincinnati hotel developers to catch suspects in 2 Ohio bribery scandals
So the Senate Energy committee took testimony from Rep. Mark Romanchuk, R-Mansfield.
“House Bill 772 is not a full repeal of HB 6,” Romanchuk said. “Rather it is a partial repeal that removes bad policy that harms Ohioans.”
It would repeal both the nuclear and coal bailouts as well as the federal request to spend Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) dollars helping people weatherize their homes. But it would keep cuts to renewable energy standards — something Democrats and a handful of Republicans were less than thrilled about.
Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, wanted to raise the amount of renewable energy electricity service companies have to provide back up to 12.5% by 2026. HB 6 cut that number down to 8.5%.
“If we are going to revisit this bill, we need to revisit all parts of this bill, not just the parts you don’t like,” Dolan told The Dispatch.
But Obhof said those standards likely would be a sticking point for more conservative members who “historically oppose some of the mandates that drive up bills.”
There are a lot of competing ideas, Sen. Steve Wilson, R-Maineville, told his colleagues during Tuesday’s hearing. “The whole idea of today was to be sure that this committee continues to build on its knowledge of this complex issue.”
Leland called it a diversion.
“The good parts in the bill are such minor issues compared to the bailouts to the nuclear power companies, the $350 million de-coupling gift to FirstEnergy, the $444 million bailout to coal plants — one of them in the state of Indiana. Those are the major portions of House Bill 6… ,” Leland said. “Everybody knows what House Bill 6 is about. It’s about a bunch of people trying to create a bribery scandal.”
He wants to repeal the entire bill and then decide what parts — if any — to pass again.
More: What Ohio’s Statehouse leaders hope to accomplish before the end of this unusual year
House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, has repeatedly told reporters he doesn’t like that idea. He worries it would increase people’s monthly bills because parts of HB 6, like the cuts to renewable energy requirements, lowered costs in the short term.
The House committee tasked with reviewing HB 6 has yet to schedule a post-election hearing; a decision that surprised both Obhof and House Democrats.
“I don’t know why they’re stalling,” Leland said.
Five federal indictments, two guilty pleas and three fired senior executives at FirstEnergy are more than enough proof for the Columbus Democrat that HB 6 needs to go.
“Those are all the facts I need,” he said. “I don’t think we need to find any more facts.”