House uses special session to pass bill aiming to bring jobs to Bootheel

The Missouri House worked quickly this week to let the Public Service Commission (PSC) clear the way for some 500 or more jobs in Southeast Missouri.

Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House has passed to the Senate a bill that would let the PSC consider lower utility rates for two companies – one that says it will reopen the Noranda aluminum smelter near Marston; the other saying it will to build a new steel mill at New Madrid, both in Southeast Missouri.

Both companies want lower utility rates that would allow those facilities to be profitable.  House Bill 1’s main provision would allow the PSC to consider whether to grant those rates.

Its sponsor, Representative Don Rone (R-Portageville), spoke passionately numerous times to his colleagues about the need for jobs in his region and the need for this legislation.

“On behalf of the people from my district I want to thank everybody in this body on both sides of the aisle whether you voted for it or against it, that’s fine.  The outcome was good for my people,” said Rone.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said it is poetic that one of the facilities will be in an industrial park that bears the name St. Jude.

“I cannot think of anything more appropriate than to have the patron saint of lost causes be the location for this extraordinary project,” said Richardson.  “If you travel across rural Missouri there are people that believe industry is never coming back to rural Missouri … but the notion that we cannot bring industry and we cannot bring business back to rural Missouri is wrong, and we’re going to show it today.”

Similar language passed out of the House during the regular session 148-2, but did not pass out of the Senate.  Governor Eric Greitens (R) called legislators back to Jefferson City to reconsider the issue, and it was met with less support.

Some Democrats, including Fred Wessels (D-St. Louis), said granting lower utility rates doesn’t make sense when the state has other incentives to help lure businesses to Missouri.

“This is a nutty way to do business when you have alternative sources,” said Wessels.

Representatives Judy Morgan (D-Kansas City) and Sarah Unsicker (D-St. Louis) were among Democrats who didn’t feel comfortable with the fact that the name of the company proposing the steel mill hasn’t been shared publicly.

“I was just so uncomfortable with the fact that there was no guarantee on the number of jobs, there was no guarantee on a clawback provision, there was no guarantee on a salary … I think I would’ve supported the bill if it had some of those items in it,” said Morgan.

“We’re letting this unknown company dictate the terms of the negotiation without holding their feet to the fire to say, ‘You need to do what you’re promising,” said Unsicker.

Representative Fred Wessels (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Fred Wessels (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Some Democrats also contend that if the PSC grants a lower utility rate for those two companies other Ameren customers will have to pay more to make up the difference.

“My constituents, our constituents, don’t really care whether they’re writing a check to the IRS or the Missouri Department of Revenue or to Ameren, I mean it’s still money,” said Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis)“Should we be doing economic development on the backs of people who pay their electric bills, and is that the right way to make policy for this state?”

Rone said there’s no way to know for sure whether Ameren customers’ rates will increase.

“Everybody’s assuming – they don’t know.  What crystal ball are they looking at?” asked Rone.  “I’ve been working this since last January and I can’t tell you what the average rate is at that location.”

The special session was called by Greitens one week after Rone called attention to the issue in a passionate floor speech, in which he called several senators “heartless,” and “selfish,” for rejecting his proposal.

Rone’s bill goes to the Senate on the strength of a bipartisan 120-17 vote.  It includes a clause that would make it effective immediately upon being signed by the governor.

Southeast MO lawmaker not giving up after impassioned speech doesn’t win jobs amendment passage

A fiery speech from a state representative was not enough to propel language he proposed that aimed to secure hundreds of jobs for his district, where people are struggling after it lost 900 jobs last year.

Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Don Rone (R-Portageville) said the legislature needed to act to allow one company to proceed with plans to reopen an aluminum smelter, and another to build a new steel plant, both in southeast Missouri.  Both companies are hoping for lower utility rates that would allow the facilities to be profitable, but the Public Service Commission needed the General Assembly’s approval to even consider setting lower rates.

Rone attached language to multiple bills that would’ve given the PSC that approval, but it wasn’t passed before the session ended on Friday.  That was despite an impassioned speech from Rone, who called out three senators for blocking his language.

Earlier story:  Frustrated Representative calls out senators as ‘heartless,’ ‘selfish’ for blocking jobs in Southeast Missouri

“I got a little passionate there at the end and it’s because I work for the people of my district really hard and I take it very serious, and I was disappointed in the outcome,” said Rone.

Rone said the only hope now is for Governor Eric Greitens (R) to call the legislature back together for a special session to consider the issue.

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

Special sessions are both rare and expensive and offer no guarantee of success, especially with Rone’s proposal opposed by some in the Senate.  Rone points out the legislature has been called into special sessions in similar situations in the past, when economic development and jobs were on the line in the St. Louis and Kansas City regions.

Rone said the impact in his region would reach beyond the 500-plus people he said would get new jobs from the two new facilities.

“500 jobs would probably relate to 2,000 people and all of the secondary jobs that would come around.  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 making steel.  Our port becomes even more valuable than it is today,” said Rone.

Rone said he understands that there is little time for the entities considering moving forward with those plants to make a decision.

“The gentleman is wanting to make a decision, I understand, by the end of May for the steel plant, and the Magnitude 7 people that are dealing with the aluminum mill, they’re out money every month to maintain that facility, to put guards up to maintain that facility, and I question how long that they will be willing to have money going out and nothing coming in,” said Rone.

Rone said his district is in need of these jobs as much as any portion of the state, particularly after the closure last year of the Noranda alumni smelter.  He said the major industry in the region – agriculture – is in need of fewer people to work because of advances in technology.

“I tell my friends in the legislature if they want to see poverty, come to southeast Missouri,” said Rone.

Rone’s speech last week raised eyebrows not only in the Capitol but in much of the state, when he accused three senators of being selfish, egotistical, and heartless in rejecting his proposal.  Normally soft-spoken and even in his tone, Rone became so emotional during his speech that he developed a nose bleed before sitting down.  In response the House overwhelmingly voted to attach his language to the bill that was before it, after giving him a standing ovation as a show of support.

Frustrated representative calls out senators as ‘heartless,’ ‘selfish’ for blocking jobs in Southeast Missouri

Frustration with the state Senate boiled over on the House Floor as one representative called out three Senators he called “heartless,” “selfish,” and “egotistical.”

Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Don Rone (R-Portageville) told his colleagues he was rebuffed when he went to some senators seeking support for a measure that would allow the reopening of an aluminum plant and the construction of a steel mill in southeast Missouri.

Scroll to the bottom of the story to hear Rep. Rone’s entire speech.

The amendment would authorize the Public Service Commission to set a lower utility rate so the aluminum plant could be profitable.  Rone said that would have restored more than 400 of the jobs lost when the Noranda smelter shut down last year, and the new steel mill would create around 200 jobs.

“My people lost 900 jobs, but we had the ability to bring back 500 of em, plus, and all we had to do was give the Public Service Commission the right to negotiate,” said Rone.

Rone, normally soft-spoken and calm in debates, became emotional when describing what happened when he and other representatives from southeast Missouri went to the Senate seeking support for the amendment, which had been added to Senate Bill 302.

“King [Senator Doug] Libla sitting over on the far side telling [Senator Rob] Schaaf to come over and talk to me and the rest of us and try to convince us that their way was the right way.  The first thing Schaff did was pull a piece of paper out and slap it in my face and said, ‘This is how much money that these senators got,’” said Rone.

Rone was asking his fellow House members to vote to add his amendment to another bill, Senate Bill 124.  They listened intently as he grew more passionate.

“I have traveled this entire United States and I have dealt with a lot of people … but I’m here to tell you that I have never dealt with, don’t ever want to deal with, the most selfish, the heartless, egotistical people as Libla, as [Senator Gary] Romine, in my life.  Never.” said Rone.

Rone claimed when Senator Romine was asked whether he was, “willing to walk away from 500 jobs,” Romine’s response was, “You bet.”

Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Now isn’t that a fine how do you do when we’re offering them 500 jobs at no cost to the state of Missouri, shovel ready, ready to go, 120 days and we’re doing something,” said Rone.

Rone pleaded with his fellows to again support his amendment so the bill could be sent back to the Senate as a “last-ditch” effort to give the PSC the authorization Rone said it needs.

“I serve some of the finest people you ever want to be with, but they are so poor.  They are all so poor,” said Rone.   “Thank you all so much.  You all agreed to do it, but anything that goes on [in the Senate] we shouldn’t even pass anything that they do, because they’re heartless, they’re selfish, and I’m asking you to pass this amendment.”

Rone was given a standing ovation by the members, many of whom have criticized the Senate this session for what they’ve called “dysfunction,” or a “lack of integrity.”

His amendment was adopted 148-2.

Click here to hear representative Rone’s entire speech on the House Floor.