Jefferson City, Mo. — Senate Bill 207, which would permit utility companies to more easily pass the cost of infrastructure improvements onto their ratepayers, was voted Do Pass out of an executive session of the Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment committee on Wednesday, Feb. 20, by a 7-2 vote.
Senator and Committee Chairman Brad Lager, R-12, said he wanted to pass the bill out of committee in order to keep the “hundreds of lobbyists hired for this bill” from “focusing on only this [committee].”
The bill would allow utility companies to create an Infrastructure System Replacement surcharge for the cost of improvements to their existing facilities and equipment, as well as sweeping deregulation measures.
Because of this legislation investor-owned utilities, would be able to make improvements and adjust their rates up to twice annually. The bill stipulates the funds raised from the increased rates must be no less than 1 million dollars or half of 1 percent of the corporations base revenue and not exceed 10 percent of the corporation’s base revenue.
Opponents of the bill say it will drastically reduce the power of the Public Service Commission and allow utility companies to pass costs onto the consumers and would likely result in larger shareholder dividends. Environmental mandates, government regulations and regular maintenance and repair could all potentially be passed onto the ratepayer, should the legislation pass in its current form.
Supporters argue the bill is necessary to spur investment into electric infrastructure, which will attract more data centers and businesses to improve Missouri’s technological infrastructure.
Lager said he thought some of the improvements still needed on the bill would be made on the floor, and that he did not expect the bill to arrive on the floor until late next week.
“I will hold this bill until at least Thursday before I turn it in so I can work on it,” he said.
There was some disagreement within the committee about whether to pass the bill during the executive session — which was held in the Pershing Gallery immediately upon Senate’s adjournment due to concerns about inclement weather — or wait until next week, when the senators would have time to discuss the committee substitute.
Sen. Will Kraus, R-8, argued for holding the bill until next week, unsuccessfully.
“Give us the weekend to look at this substitute, maybe by Monday we’ll have amendments, and we can make the improvements then,” Kraus said.
Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-4, said he had not even had a chance to read the committee substitute, but later voted with the majority to pass it onto the floor.
Lager wasn’t concerned about amendments, and said that passing the bill and sending it to the floor would “widen” the opinions on the issue to the full chamber.
“I think it’s time to elevate it to the full body and let both sides start working the halls of everyone so that debate isn’t limited to this group of people,” Lager said.
The committee substitute was adopted by a 7-2 vote in favor. Senators Jason Holsman, D-7, and Wayne Wallingford, R-27, were the nay votes.
“The closer this bill is to the ISRIS bill that gas and water uses the more likely I am to vote in favor of it,” Kraus told The Missouri Times. “The larger the bill gets with the fewer protections for ratepayers involved the less likely I am to support the final bill on the floor.”
The debate will now move to the Senate floor where it is likely that Sen. Doug Libla, R-25, will join Holsman and Wallingford in opposing the bill.