State Rep. Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville, talks to the press at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)
The drama continues at the Ohio Statehouse as lawmakers squabble about repealing or protecting scandal-ridden, ratepayer-funded subsidies for coal plants.
These subsidies were created from the largest public corruption scandal in state history.
Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder is standing in a very different spot now than when his legislation, House Bill 6, was signed into law in 2019.
But part of the bill, which resulted from a $61 million bribe, still remains.
State Rep. Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) has joined forces with many of his fellow Republicans and Democratic colleagues to try to get H.B. 6 off the books.
“The number one thing of Larry’s legacy, H.B. 6, continues to exist,” Ferguson said. “We shouldn’t be putting tax money into a pay-to-play scandal.”
A jury found that Householder and former GOP leader Matt Borges, beyond a reasonable doubt, participated in the largest public corruption case in state history, a racketeering scheme that left four men guilty and another dead by suicide.
Householder passed a nearly $61 million scheme to pass a billion-dollar bailout, House Bill 6, at the expense of taxpayers and at the benefit of his pockets.
The convicted felon was sentenced in late June to 20 years in federal prison. After two weeks in jail, Householder filed an appeal.
H.B. 6 mainly benefited FirstEnergy’s struggling nuclear power plants, which provisions were later repealed. There are remaining aspects of the bill still in place, though.
The Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC) also got a handout from the scandal. It expanded a bailout of the OVEC plants and required Ohioans to pay for them. The main beneficiaries from this were American Electric Power Company (AEP), Duke Energy and AES Ohio.
This scandal was covered extensively by OCJ/WEWS, which followed the legislation all the way through the Statehouse, the arrests, trial, conviction and sentencing.
House Bill 120 would eliminate subsidies for two 1950s-era OVEC coal plants. It would also require full repayments of revenues collected under the H.B. 6 OVEC subsidy.
State Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson), along with 32 other representatives, has put forward H.B. 120 to stop ratepayers from funding the coal plant in Southern Ohio and the other that is in Indiana, a coal plant that atlases confirm is not even in this state.
Even representatives that didn’t sign on to be a cosponsor have told OCJ/WEWS they support it.
Despite the bipartisan effort, the bill goes nowhere.
“Unfortunately, there’s one person that holds the gavel and is kind of the roadblock to us doing what’s right for Ohioans,” Ferguson said.
House Speaker Jason Stephens has repeatedly ignored Ferguson’s efforts — something that as speaker, he is able to do.
“This issue is over from a legislative standpoint,” Stephens said. “We have decided it.”
The speaker explained that in the previous General Assembly, part of H.B. 6 was repealed, but the lawmakers chose to keep the coal plant money.
“A committee thoroughly vetted H.B. 6 in the 133rd G.A,” the speaker added.
Then in the 134th G.A., lawmakers passed H.B. 128 — which took out funding for nuclear power plants.
Since its introduction, H.B. 120 has sat stagnant without any hearings — so lawmakers filed a discharge petition. If a majority of the House members signed on, it would supersede Stephens’ power and bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
But as the effort was gaining signatures, Stephens plucked the bill from committee, killing the discharge petition and essentially eliminating the bill.
Now, Ferguson takes every effort to speak in session to bring it back — to no avail.
“It did not go well,” Ferguson said about running up to the speaker to try to be heard after attempting multiple times during session in July.
Stephens ignored Ferguson, prompting the lawmaker to head over to the press box to give OCJ/WEWS his motion to suspend House rules and bring H.B. 120 to a floor vote.
“It was totally out of order,” Stephens said. “I mean, totally out of decorum.”
Stephens has had bigger issues to be dealing with, such as the budget, the speaker said. He also said it is no surprise that Ferguson is ramping up his efforts now that Householder has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
“It is nothing but political theater,” the speaker said.
However, if Ferguson gets at least 50 members to agree with him during session, he can force a vote.
“Let’s get it done,” the lawmaker said.
The bipartisan coalition will continue the fight once lawmakers return after summer break, Ferguson added.
This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.