JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Eric Greitens called a special session of the legislature to convene next week over only one bill: Rep. Don Rone’s steel mill bill. The special session will begin Monday, May 22 at 4 p.m.
In a statement, Greitens said the Missouri General Assembly had unfinished business after the regular session.
“Some career politicians failed to do their jobs and then went home. That’s wrong,” Greitens said. “We’re cancelling their summer vacations and calling a special session to get this done.”
Some of those “career politicians” may include Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, and Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, the two senators (who are both businessmen who have only served as senators at the state level) who led their opposition to Rone’s measure over fears it would increase electricity rates for consumers in the state.
Rone offered the language late in the session as an amendment to SB 302 and SB 124, giving a rousing and passionate speech when attaching it to the latter that drew a standing ovation from the rest of the House. His bill would give the Public Service Commission the authority to set a special rate for aluminum smelters and steel mills in the state of Missouri.
House Speaker Todd Richardson applauded Greitens’ call for a special session and said the chamber would “work quickly and efficiently” to get the bill to the governor.
“My colleagues and I in the House of Representatives are ready and willing to work to bring these good-paying, family-supporting jobs to Missouri,” Richardson said in a statement. “This is an issue that received overwhelming support in the House during the regular session as our entire chamber realized the significant economic boost these jobs can provide for southeast Missouri and our state as a whole.”
Rone was not immediately available for comment, but Libla said in a statement that while he approves of legislation that would create a special rate for aluminum smelters like Noranda, he does not believe Rone’s current legislation on the matter would best accomplish that.
“The Rone amendment, contained in SB302, would give the PSC the ability to use any alternative rate making mechanism regardless, if it is allowed under current law,” Libla said. “This could lead to unnecessary rate increases, and absolutely has nothing to do with reopening the smelter or a steel mill in New Madrid. All it would do is benefit the utility company. This would leave businesses and families vulnerable to monopoly utilities, such as Ameren.”
The Portageville Republican asked for a special session earlier this week, urging that it could save 500-plus jobs and provide a needed economic boost to one of the most destitute regions of the state after Noranda went bankrupt.
Greitens also made a note to limit the special session to a single topic, something Rep. Kevin Engler said last week could mark a successful and productive special session.
“It can go off into tangents,” Engler said. “If you’re going to have one, which I think only a couple of subjects merit that, then we should define it to exactly what we’re here to talk about.”
The last special session in Missouri happened in 2013. Then-Gov. Jay Nixon convened one for debate on the “Boeing bill,” which gave the aerospace company $1.7 billion in tax credits to develop their 777X airliner line in Missouri.
Lawmakers react to special session news
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty initially said in her end-of-session remarks last week that she did not see a need for a special session. However, she credited the governor for addressing a time-sensitive issue that can bring jobs into the state, as was done for Boeing and for the Claycomo Ford plant in Kansas City in 2010.
“It’s my understanding that this particular issue is time-sensitive and therefore, likely will not wait until January,” Beatty said. “It seems that the governor’s call was very narrow to strictly do this. So I think it probably is a reasonable request to have special session to cover this. If it’s truly going to bring 500 or so jobs to Southeast Missouri, I think that’s probably a reasonable reason to have a special session.”
Some legislators chimed in on social media, encouraged by the news.
— Jean Evans ⚜️ (@MoRepEvans) May 18, 2017
Passing legislation that brings 500 jobs to Missouri Bootheel is a no brainer – @MOLegDems supported unanimously in regular session (1 of 2)
— Greg Razer (@gregrazer) May 18, 2017
Others were more critical, citing cost concerns in a year of belt-tightening when it comes to the budget.
— Ryan Silvey (@RyanSilvey) May 18, 2017
— Sarah Unsicker (@SarahUnsicker) May 18, 2017
Rep. Nick Schroer said he too had concerns about spending taxpayer money needlessly but added he believed this issue was important enough to call one.
“I think this is a situation where the governor has calculated all of these different factors into determining what, if anything, needs to be addressed immediately in a special session,” Schroer said. “This is a situation that calls for a special session, and this legislation is something that needs to be addressed. Under these circumstances, the cost versus the benefits it could have, I think it will heavily outweigh the costs.”
Sen. Rob Schaaf, who has stood with Libla and Romine in their ratemaking filibusters, alleged collusion between Greitens and campaign donors like Ameren and Kansas City Power & Light had led to the special session.
Ben Peters contributed to this story.