Ohio lawmakers debate repealing bailout bill at center of scandal

Larry Householder appears in Ohio Statehouse
Larry Householder appears in Ohio Statehouse

Six weeks after federal authorities arrested Republican Larry Householder and four others in an alleged $60 million bribery scheme, a major battle is being waged over what will happen with House Bill 6 — the $1.3 billion bailout law at the center of the public corruption scandal.

House Republicans abruptly halted session Tuesday to sidestep moves by House Democrats to try to force a vote to repeal HB6.

House Speaker Robert Cupp, R-Lima, said the Democrats’ efforts would have forced Ohio into a “reckless and hasty direction.”

Instead, Cupp named a new committee to consider legislation to repeal and replace HB6.

“We’ve heard from some folks that a straight repeal is actually going to raise rates. There are a lot of complications, a lot of un-winding. There may have been some detrimental reliance by some organizations on this bill. We have to figure what those are. To do something in a hasty and reckless manner is totally inappropriate,” he said.

He declined to provide a timeline for when the new committee may recommend a replacement bill.

House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, D-Akron, said a bill to repeal HB6 has been languishing for 30 days. “At some point, we have to press the issue.”

Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, has said he favors a full repeal of the bailout law. The Senate began hearings Tuesday on a repeal bill.

Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday he supports nuclear energy but “I think HB6 has been so tainted by what came out and what was disclosed that it needs to be repealed.”

DeWine signed HB6 into law in July 2019. It removes renewable energy standards and energy efficiency programs and provides subsidies for Akron-based Energy Harbor to keep open two Ohio-based nuclear power plants as well as smaller subsidies for coal-fired plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corp.

Energy Harbor is the new name for FirstEnergy Solutions, a former subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp.

Facing a fierce counter campaign, opponents of the bill failed to collect enough signatures to put the law up for a statewide referendum vote and it took effect in October 2019.

In July, FBI agents arrested Householder and four other men and U.S. Attorney David DeVillers detailed a $60 million bribery scheme to get pro-Householder legislators elected, position Householder to become speaker, push through the bailout bill and defend it from the referendum attempt.

Householder is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on a racketeering charge. He showed up for the House session Tuesday and told reporters that House Bill 6 is “great legislation” that preserves thousands of jobs and saves Ohio ratepayers $2.3 billion.

He also said that he is innocent and will vigorously defend himself against the accusations.

The other four charged with racketeering in the case — lobbyists Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes, political strategist Jeff Longstreth and former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges — have all pleaded not guilty.

Cupp said Householder should resign.

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In July, the House voted to remove Householder as speaker but tabled a motion to eject him from office. Cupp said ejection can only be exercised once for the same actions and Householder is running unopposed for re-election in November.

Lawmakers are in an election season and many are facing public pressure over House Bill 6 and the scandal.

The Coalition to Restore Public Trust is running ads in key districts calling for a full repeal of HB6 and Ohio Citizen Action launch a campaign to pressure lawmakers to repeal the law.

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Mike McGovern of ProgressOhio, a liberal-leaning organization, criticized House leadership for considering replacing HB6 with some other subsidies for the nuclear power plants.

“This is a matter of right and wrong. If Speaker Cupp is serious about restoring trust in the House, then he needs to repeal, not replace HB6. Any legislation that continues to bail out FirstEnergy with our money after they attempted to buy our democracy is unacceptable,” McGovern said in a written statement.