Ohio senators introduce bills to prevent another bribery scandal from happening

By: - September 11, 2023 4:55 am

Electrical substation in the snow in winter. High voltage wires

To prevent an even bigger and more embarrassing bribery scandal from taking place, Ohio lawmakers introduced two bills to stop public corruption.

When a consumer pays their utility bill — it’s not just for their lights. Part of what they pay for is for utility companies’ political endeavors.

Ohio learned the hard way that this can lead to schemes, Karin Nordstrom with the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund said.

“House Bill 6 demonstrated how Ohio utilities spent our money to increase their power and enact policies against our interest,” she added.

Fast Facts

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H.B. 6 mainly benefited FirstEnergy’s struggling nuclear power plants, which provisions were later repealed.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 News 5, which followed the legislation all the way through the Statehouse, the arrests, trial, conviction and sentencing.

New legislation

State Sen. Kent Smith (D-Euclid) decided to introduce two different bills to keep corruption away.

“This is about fixing a system in Ohio that led to the House Bill 6 scandal,” he said. “This is about putting the public back in Ohio public utilities.”

S.B. 149 would prohibit utilities from spending taxpayer money for political uses, like lobbying for beneficial legislation for their company.

S.B. 151, also sponsored by state Sen. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) and cosponsored by state Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Ontario), would repeal subsidies from the H.B. 6 scandal. It would stop Ohioans from paying for two 1950s-era coal plants — one that’s in Indiana.

But Smith faces an uphill battle.

“This issue is over from a legislative standpoint,” House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said in July. “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.

A bipartisan group in the House has the same repeal bill, but it’s stuck because Stephens doesn’t want to repeal it. The plant is in his district.

Click or tap here to read about the consistent drama in the Ohio House about the OVEC plants.

Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau asked Smith if his bill could pass due to his major roadblock, Stephens.

“There are 131 other members of the General Assembly that should be looking out for their constituents with the same degree of passion that the speaker is looking out for his constituents,” Smith responded.

Senate Bill 150

Smith also introduced a third bill — S.B. 150.

This bill would prevent utility companies from shutting off power to vulnerable people.

These are the people or groups who would apply:

  • Any household with a child five years old or younger
  • Any household that has a person 65 years or older
  • Household income below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines

Also, people who:

  • Have a disability
  • Have an illness
  • Are currently pregnant

There will be disclosure requirements and medical certifications needed.
Currently, Ohio has two different prohibitions on utility disconnections: a 30-day medical certificate that you can get three times in a 12-month period or through the winter heating season from Nov. 1-April 15.

News 5 reached out to FirstEnergy, AEP and OVEC about the legislation. Only FirstEnergy responded.

“FirstEnergy is committed to supporting policies that benefit our customers and employees and that are aligned with the company’s core values and responsibilities to our stakeholders,” spokesperson Will Boye said.

They were specifically asked about how often they shut off vulnerable people’s services and what their thoughts were about possibly not shutting off the services. Boye didn’t have detailed information.

“While we are unable to provide specific data, we follow all state requirements regarding service disconnections,” he said. “Terminating service is always a last resort, and we urge customers who are having difficulty paying their bills to contact us to discuss payment and assistance options that can help them avoid service disconnections.”

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.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.



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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.