Missouri legislature's special session ends with smelting plant bill sent to Gov. Greitens | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri legislature's special session ends with smelting plant bill sent to Gov. Greitens

May 26, 2017

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ first special session was a success.

On Friday, the Senate passed a bill 24-5 designed to reopen an aluminum smelting plant once operated by Noranda, as well as to build a new steel plant nearby. The bill will take effect the moment the Republican governor signs it.

“We fought hard for this bill, and we are proud to stand with the people of the Bootheel,” Greitens said in a written statement. “This is a great day for them.”

It remains to be seen whether Greitens will call more special sessions this summer ahead of the September veto session. His spokesman has said, “everything is on the table.”

Sponsored by GOP Rep. Don Rone of Portageville, the measure that passed Friday allows the state's Public Service Commission to negotiate with Ameren Missouri for a lower electricity rate for the now-shuttered smelting plant and a proposed steel facility.

“It’s my understanding if both of these successfully open in Missouri, around 500 jobs will be created and brought back,” said Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff. “The workforce is already there.”

Libla, who carried the bill in the Senate, initially had problems with it, saying it could lead to higher utility bills for Ameren’s residential customers. His criticisms made him the target of attack ads last week from A New Missouri, Inc., the nonprofit that pushes Greitens’ agenda and is run by Greitens’ campaign staffers.

But Libla changed his stance after a few amendments were made, such as allowing other industries that use large amounts of electricity to negotiate for lower utility rates and requiring those companies to prove it's needed and in the public interest.

Libla also said the type of jobs the two facilities would create require specialized training and would pay, on average, about $55,000 a year.

“We need to have opportunities where kids know they can get out of school, maybe go to technical training or go to college, but we’d like for the kids to be able to stay in their communities and keep that generation going,” Libla said.

The changes weren’t enough for a small group of senators — both fiscally conservative Republicans and a few Democrats — who doubted the bill would truly protect Missouri residents from rate increases because there is no language in the measure that specifically forbids utility companies from doing so. Two amendments were offered, but both were defeated.

“If you have a business model that says you’re going to go out of business unless you get a subsidized rate, that is not a viable business plan,” said Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig of Manchester, who sponsored one of the amendments.“We don’t want businesses coming here if they can only operate if we give them money.”

Greitens, whose relationship with the General Assembly has been rough in his first year, criticized some members of the Senate during rallies he hosted the weekend before the special session as well as on Tuesday. That day, the governor led people who’d been bused in by A New Missouri to the offices of Libla and Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, where they posted signs that said, “We don’t want welfare, we want to work ... bring back American jobs.”

“Senators saw the overwhelming support of the people, and I’m glad that they acted to bring more jobs and higher pay to Missouri,” Greitens said in his statement Friday.

But negotiations between House and Senate members already were happening on Tuesday, leading to the version of the bill that’s now on its way to the governor’s desk.

Libla and Romine were involved in that process.

“(In 2014), we were very active in the process of trying to secure a special rate for Noranda before they left to try to secure them staying, (but) that ended up not happening,” Romine said. “I was hoping from that failure that we learned a … way to go forward with this and have success this year.”

The identity of the company that would operate the steel facility has been kept a secret. But St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported Thursday that Greitens is negotiating with Sumangala Steel, which is based in Chennai, India. Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, the bill's sponsor, declined to confirm the report to St. Louis Public Radio. The company’s website says it has three plants, none of which are in the U.S.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport