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Rep. McNally Calls for Increased Consumer Protection, Transparency in Public Utility Rates Following HB 6 Scandal

HB 444 requires public disclosure of political expenditures, increased fines for violations
April 23, 2024
Lauren McNally News

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COLUMBUS - State Rep. Lauren McNally (D-Youngstown) today provided sponsor testimony in the House Government Oversight Committee on House Bill (HB) 444, a bill banning public utilities from rate recovery for political expenditures, requiring greater political expenditure reporting, and fining utilities for violations. In the wake of the House Bill (HB) 6 scandal, it has recently become clear public utilities consumers of FirstEnergy helped fund secret dark money contributions to both Mike DeWine and Jon Husted when both were running for governor. 

“Understanding the fee, what it's for, and how it's meant to help me, the consumer who is paying for it, is already overwhelming to take on. Doing something about it or spending hours on a customer service hotline to do something about it? That’s not a realistic expectation for a busy, working family. Going up against the lobbyists advocating for those fees and their millions to contribute toward influencing elections and our government? Fat chance,” said Rep. McNally during her sponsor testimony. “It’s no wonder Americans’ views of politics and elected officials are unrelentingly negative…They’re right to feel this way if we do nothing, especially with bread-and-butter issues like their monthly bills and costs. Those feelings are an indictment on us, most especially when there are corruption indictments and we, as the stewards of this government, don’t improve their circumstances. HB 444 is an opportunity to do that and to show that we, as lawmakers, see and feel their experiences.”

The legislation was introduced with former state Rep. Jessica E. Miranda (D-Forest Park), in response to Ohioans' concerns around the cost of corruption in Ohio. Ohioans are still paying $500k a day, over one-billion dollars, through increased electric bills and fee hikes following the HB 6 scandal and what U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers referred to as, “likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.”

“When my neighbor is watching the evening news with his AC turned off in 80-degree weather just to save a buck, and he’s hearing about how the money for these pay-to-play bribes is coming from his sweat-drenched pockets, you better believe he is mad as hell,” continued Rep. McNally. “I know my family and other Ohio families don’t expect to be charged fees for a business’s politicking or business executives enriching themselves through backroom deals. Yet this is exactly what we, as lawmakers, are allowing to take place in Ohio in the utility space and why we have found ourselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals to ever take place...Deterrence and transparency are key, and HB 444 clearly defines what constitutes political expenditures while requiring increased penalties and reporting.”

HB 444 is composed of three basic parts:

  1. Rules: Ban utilities from lobbying, donating to political groups and non-profits or public relations campaigns with ratepayer money.
  2. Disclosure: Require utilities to disclose an itemized list of their political expenditures.
  3. Enforcement: Levy fines against utilities if they engage in politics with ratepayer funds.

It will require that no later than the first day of January each year, each public utility shall submit to the PUCO an expenditure report listing all political expenditures that the utility made during the preceding twelve-month period. For each expenditure, the report shall include: the payee, amount, and purpose of expenditure. The report shall be submitted to the PUCO electronically, and upon its receipt, the PUCO shall post the report on the commission website for all to see.

If costs are passed on to Ohioans, HB 444 will give our state greater tools to make them whole. It builds on existing PUCO enforcement tools while creating a cost recovery fund for Ohioans struggling with their bills called the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) Program. It will require PUCO fines to equal 20 times the amount charged to the public utility’s customers in violation of the bill’s prohibition sending a clear message on the cost of corruption here in Ohio.

“The world is watching and the time to send this message is now,” said Rep. McNally.

HB 444 awaits further hearing in the House Government Oversight Committee before being voted on by all members of the Ohio House of Representatives.