Senate utility bill filibuster returns, compromise apparently no longer standing

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Anyone who thought that the previous week’s filibuster and subsequent compromise would be the end of the issue of Sen. Ed Emery’s utility bill was wrong.

The opposition from the previous debate, who mounted a more than 24-hour filibuster, returned to the Senate once again on Wednesday demanding changes to the bill. Though the two sides had reached an agreement, it became clear that the compromise was no longer going to be held.

Speaking before the Senate could even move off of the journal, Sen. Rob Schaaf once again said that the compromised language was not truly a fair compromise, comparing it instead to a hold-up.

Schaaf once again said that no compromise was truly a compromise when the threat of a PQ looms.

Sens. Doug Libla and Gary Romine once again joined the filibuster, demanding the chance to re-negotiate the compromised language.

The senators’ wanted changes included four provisions:

The first concerned the use of plant-in-service-accounting (PISA), with the senators asking why PISA would need to be applied to a utility’s grid modernization investments.

They instead sought to ensure that PISA would only be applied to those investments as long as there was a requirement that the utility must invest 25 percent more than the utility baseline investment level for grid modernization.

Romine argued that if the utility companies needed an incentive to modernize the grids, then they should instead target the incentives toward the added investments to make sure they go through with the grid modernization activities and upgrades.

The second provision would further lower the proposed rate caps from the compromised numbers. The agreement had set the rate cap at 2.85 percent, but the filibustering senators said that Ameren’s willingness to drop to that rate from the original 3 percent only shows how much room the utilities have under the caps. Instead, they recommended a level of 2.25 percent.

One of the major portions of the perfected bill was the agreement to allow utilities to take advantage of the recently approved federal tax cuts by allowing the Missouri Public Service Commission to true up the savings within 90 days of the proposed bill becoming law.

The proposed rate decrease would reportedly save customers more than $100 million, according to Sen. Emery.

But the filibustering senators pushed to return those savings immediately while also not giving the companies the ability to defer to a later date.

The final provision called for was a cap for capital structure, which would be placed at 50 percent, or to be placed under the capital structure of the holding company to prevent any leveraging. They said that the current version of the bill would allow companies to borrow money from the holding companies, which would be paid with interest, and as such could lead to higher rates for customers.

But as the filibuster ticked on, the question of how things would proceed became clear: either a member of those senators who voted to perfect the bill would have to request to bring it back, or the Senate would have to adjourn.

After four hours of filibustering, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal stopped reading from a book and asked for a quorum call. After that, Sen. Schaaf asked that an amendment he had sent forward to the journal be sent back, opening the doors to Sen. Mike Kehoe to rise and motion to adjourn.

As the senators left the chamber, Sen. Romine was asked where that leaves things in regard to the bill. He responded, saying that what was being seen was the beginning of a negotiation.

When asked if the filibuster would be picked up on the following day, Sen. Libla simply stated that “tomorrow is a new day.”

Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email benjamin@themissouritimes.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.