House divides Berry’s utility bill in two, gives initial approval

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With strong bipartisan support, the Missouri House gave initial approval of Rep. T.J. Berry’s utility bill. Through a Division of Question motion, the legislation was voted on in two parts — separating out the portion on rate cuts in relation to the federal tax cut.

“This bill, 2265, is a fine work of art,” said Rep. Tracy McCreery, who made the motion to divide the bill for voting. “But it is like a collage and I’m not sure the Senate like collages. I wanted to pull this tax cut act out, create its own standalone bill so it doesn’t go down in flames on the other side of the building.”

“It’s an acknowledgment that we want to get the tax cut money back to the people actually paying into the company.”

Part One, which strictly dealt with rate cuts in relation to tax cuts passed in a 134-4 roll-call vote. Berry supported the division saying “we want our constituents to get money from the rates reduction as quickly as possible.”

“We have, although it is in Part One, we have a reduction in rates, which is always good, and it’s been a long time since we have been able to say that,” said. Rep. Rocky Miller. “In Part Two, we have the most consumer-friendly rate caps in the United States. We have $1 billion in investment in the state of Missouri, it is actually more than that because that is just one company. We also have 3,000 plus new jobs coming to the state of Missouri because of this bill.”

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The second part of the legislation is where the most debate took place, as it was arguably to more complicated part of the bill.  

“This is not a simple bill,” said Berry. “This is utility policy and utility policy is anything but simple.”

Utility legislation has been a long time in the making, according to Berry. In his eight years in the General Assembly, not a single bill has passed.

“This bill has been along the worst and not everyone is happy with it but everyone is getting a little benefit trying to make it better,” Berry said.

Since no side is completely happy, that “probably means it is at a relatively healthy place,” according to Rep. Peter Merideth.

The version the House perfected on Wednesday started out very similar to the version the Senate passed in February but was made their own as it went through the processes.

Merideth introduced an amendment that would give the Public Service Commission the ability to approve a special rate for low-income residents.

“This helps protect these low-income folks who this bill may affect more than anyone else,” Rep. Butler said.

If the PSC decided to use the provision, it could cause the rates of others to increase, as pointed out by Rep. J. Eggleston.

“What we are doing here is if all else fails and we jacked it up, which I don’t believe we have — we have a bill where everybody gets a slice and no one gets the loaf — this gives the Public Service Commission the ability, they don’t have to, but it gives them the ability to look at and say ‘Ok, there were some unintended consequence, let’s approach it this way,’” said Berry.

A “polite and courtesy” amendment was adopted that requires companies to attempt notification before they replace or do work on a meter.

The second part of the bill passed in a 128-13 roll-call vote. The House needs to vote on the legislation one more time before being sent to the Senate.

“We got a bill that is full of compromise, some great ideas, some less than great ideas but at the end of the day we have something that will move the ball forward,” said Miller.