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DeWine, lawmakers call for repeal of nuclear bailout bill at center of corruption charges

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine addresses a news conference March 4, 2020.

(The Center Square) – A growing number of state lawmakers are signing on to a push to repeal House Bill 6, a $1.3 billion ratepayer-funded bailout of two Ohio nuclear power plants.

The bill faces new scrutiny after federal authorities arrested Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and four others as part of a federal racketeering probe.

Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, initially came out against repealing HB 6 but has changed his tune and called on state lawmakers to repeal and replace the bill through an open process.

“No matter how good this policy is, the process, the process by which this bill was passed is simply not acceptable,” DeWine said during a Thursday press briefing. “That process, I believe, has forever tainted the bill and now the law itself.

“While the policy, in my opinion, is good, the process by which it was created stinks. It’s terrible; it’s not acceptable,” he added.

Even if lawmakers repeal the legislation and look to replace it, some elements of HB 6 could survive.

“We’ve heard from several individuals who say that there is some good in [the bill] and that we should try to preserve that good,” state Rep. Laura Lanese, R-Grove City, said during a Thursday news conference.

“Given the criminal charges that are associated with House Bill 6, I think it’s best that we start fresh with a clean bill that has not been tainted by all of these allegations,” Lanese added. “Those good things that are out there can be either put into separate legislation or they can be a part of this new bill, but I think that … we need to essentially sanitize this legislation and start anew.”

Under HB 6, electric consumers fund the bailout through a charge that runs through 2027. The fee could collect up to $85 million in the 2021 fiscal year.

Federal authorities claim Householder created an “enterprise” that received $60 million “from an energy company and its affiliates” – possibly FirstEnergy Corp. – to help pass House Bill 6 and defeat a ballot initiative to overturn the legislation.

FirstEnergy Solutions announced plans to close two nuclear power plants before the bill’s passage. The company filed for bankruptcy in March 2018 but emerged under a new name – Energy Harbor – earlier this year and independent of FirstEnergy Corp., which received subpoenas from federal investigators.

Investigators also charged Mathew Borges, 48, of Bexley, a lobbyist and former Ohio Republican Party Chair; longtime Householder campaign strategist Jeffrey Longstreth, 44, of Columbus; lobbyist Neil Clark, 67, of Columbus; and lobbyist Juan Cespedes, 40, of Columbus. The feds also charged Generation Now, a 501(c)(4) “social welfare entity,” as part of the alleged conspiracy.

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