By Farnoush Amiri, Report for America/Associated Press
Newly elected Speaker Bob Cupp called Rep. Larry Householder’s return to the Statehouse following his July 21 arrest “offensive” to members of the chamber and said it “brought disrepute upon the House.”
Cupp’s request was the latest in a series of unprecedented legislative events since Householder and four others were accused last month of shepherding energy company money for personal and political use as part of an effort to pass the legislation, then kill an attempt to repeat it at the ballot.
Adding to Tuesday’s drama, Republicans in the majority abruptly shut down the House voting session rather than allow Democrats to force a vote on repealing the law that created the power plant bailout.
Householder, who was removed from his leadership post in a unanimous vote following his arrest, was one of the driving forces behind House Bill 6, the disputed legislation which added a fee to every electricity bill in the state and directed over $150 million a year, through 2026, to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo.
Both Republicans and Democrats agree that the law should be repealed and replaced because of the criminal charges. But they disagree on how quickly that should happen.
“We have amendments to speak for Ohioans when their voices are not being heard,” House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes told reporters after House session Tuesday. “So we’ve waited. Our constituents have waited. They deserve to feel trust in the institution that is making the law and holds the pulse here in the state of Ohio.”
Householder, a Republican from Glenford in southeastern Ohio, is scheduled for a court appearance Thursday, when he plans on pleading not guilty. He also confirmed he has found legal representation after a nearly monthlong search for a new attorney.
“I believe in the justice system, and I believe if everything works the way it’s supposed to, the truth will come out,” he said, after arriving for a regularly scheduled House session. “And as I’ve said I’m innocent, and I intend to absolutely defend myself.”
The other four defendants have all pleaded not guilty.
Fellow GOP Rep. Scott Lipps said he was surprised to see Householder show up to the legislative session.
“The division in the House is so deep right now,” said Lipp, who voted for House Bill 6 but against Householder’s speakership in 2019. “It’s deeper than any time I’ve ever been here and I’m worried about what’s going to happen.”
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine weighed in Tuesday on the legislative implications of the federal bribery probe. He said the House should replicate the gist of House Bill 6 in order to avoid the job loss at the nuclear plants, and because Ohio needs the non-carbon producing energy from those plants. However, the bill, as it was created, must be tossed out, the governor said.
“HB6 has been so tainted by what came out and what was disclosed that it needs to be repealed,” DeWine said during his coronavirus briefing.
Cupp announced Monday the creation of a new committee tasked with addressing the future of House Bill 6 after the federal affidavit released in late July cast doubt on the process by which the bill became law.
“Our goal is to have an open and thorough process for repealing House Bill 6 and replacing it with thoughtful legislation Ohioans can have confidence in,” Cupp, a Lima Republican, said in a statement commencing his first day of legislative action since becoming speaker on July 30.
Democratic lawmakers were quick to push back, blasting Cupp for “creating an unnecessary bureaucracy to complicate the process,” when a bill to repeal the legislation has already been introduced in the House.
“It is obvious now that the Republicans do not actually want to repeal House Bill 6,” Reps. Michael Skindell and Michael O’Brien said in a statement Monday.
Associated Press writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins contributed to this report from Columbus. Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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