Rone seeking special session to attract smelter to Bootheel

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PORTAGEVILLE, Mo. – In a final legislative week full of huge moments, perhaps no moment stood out quite like Rep. Don Rone’s emotional floor speech Thursday evening while he attached an amendment to SB 124. The amendment would give the Public Service Commission the ability to negotiate a lower electric rate for a company considering Southeast Missouri as the location for a new iron smelter.

The smelter would bring 500 jobs back to the area after 900 people were laid off when Noranda went bankrupt. Rone, R-Portageville, believes the bill is an essential economic development priority for the region. However, his amendment failed. Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, disagreed and filibustered a different bill with Rone’s amendment attached to it earlier Thursday.

Yet Rone will Greitens for a special session to pass such a measure, according to audio obtained by House Communications reporter Mike Lear.

“I will be reaching out to ask him to consider a special session to address this issue,” Rone told Lear.

Rone attempts last lifeline for bootheel jobs against Libla opposition

Greitens left the idea of a special session open last week at his end-of-session press conference. His predecessor, Gov Jay Nixon, last called a special session in 2013 to pass a tax credit measure to attract Boeing’s consideration to build their 777X airliners in St. Louis.

The special session worked and Boeing formally opened its 777X wing center in Oct. 2016. The new facility is estimated to create 700 new jobs.

During his speech Thursday, Rone said his amendment would give similar economic benefit to a part of the state in desperate need of jobs and development.

“Five hundred shovel-ready jobs. I just don’t understand it,” Rone said Thursday, adding that the Senate had stopped was hurting the state with their “heartless” and “selfish” behavior. “They are disrupting government at the state of Missouri. This is an opportunity for a whole generation in the state of Missouri. The citizens of my district will know and know and know how Libla treated them.”

Libla, himself a senator from Southeast Missouri, believes giving ratemakers too little oversight and giving utility companies like Ameren too much power, could hurt people in these areas more than help them.

“Because people and businesses have no choice from whom to purchase their electric – anything that reduces the PSC oversight of fairness is serious business,” Libla said in an open letter. “Companies, such as Ameren, are a monopoly and enjoy by state law – no competition. This is why we cannot afford any deterioration of the oversight capabilities and responsibilities of the PSC.”

After his 10-minute speech Thursday, Rone received a standing ovation and his amendment made it onto the bill by a 148-2 margin.

Rone however, later added that the economic impact goes far beyond those 500 jobs, which could bolster the region.

“Five hundred jobs would probably relate to 2,000 people and all of the secondary jobs that would come around,” he said. “Restaurants staying open, businesses staying open. Our port facilities becoming even a greater asset to us here at New Madrid because of bringing in the alumina to make aluminum back in to bringing the scrap metal in to [make] steel. Our port becomes even more valuable than it is today.”

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