Legislation aimed at creating about 500 new jobs in impoverished southeast Missouri was approved by the House on Wednesday, after a marathon five hour debate.
The House voted 120-17 to approve State Rep. Don Rone’s (R-Portageville) Noranda/steel mill bill.
Supporters say the jobs would be created in the Bootheel. Governor Eric Greitens (R) called the special session. He tells Missourinet that nine of the ten poorest counties in the state are in southeast Missouri.
Wednesday’s vote came one day after about 250 Bootheel residents rallied at the Statehouse in Jefferson City, along with Gov. Greitens and Rone.
Rone’s bill had strong Democratic House support on Wednesday, including from State Rep. Greg Razer (D-Kansas City). The freshman lawmaker graduated from Cooter High School in Pemiscot County in 1996.
“When I go home to visit family and friends and I drive around, I am struck by that poverty, by that lack of opportunity that you see in New Madrid County, Pemiscot, Dunklin,” Razer says on the House floor.
Rone’s bill also drew vocal support from another freshman Democrat, State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr.
“I will wholeheartedly vote for jobs for all people,” Franks says on the floor. “I will stand up for all people each and every time. I don’t care if you’re from Pemiscot (County), I don’t care if you’re from Cass (County), I don’t care if you’re from Montgomery (County), I don’t care if you’re from St. Louis City or St. Louis County.”
Franks did call on Republican lawmakers to vote to help poor people elsewhere.
House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) says the proposed smelter and steel mill would be located in the St. Jude’s Industrial Park in New Madrid.
Richardson notes that’s an appropriate location, since St. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless cases. About 900 people lost their jobs when the Noranda smelter closed in 2016.
Rone tells his House colleagues that the average salary for smelter employees would be $95,000. Rone also says that the managers at the smelter would earn about $125,000.
State Rep. Tracy McCreery (D-Olivette) worries about the impact the bill will have on Ameren ratepayers.
McCreery describes the Rone bill as a “giveaway” to Ameren. She says her constituents are Ameren ratepayers. She tells the House that residents in New Madrid and Sikeston are not Ameren customers.
State Rep. Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters) offered an amendment aimed at protecting Ameren ratepayers. The House rejected the Christofanelli amendment, and many of the “no” votes were Republicans.
And State Rep. Brandon Ellington (D-Kansas City) also spoke against the Rone bill, saying Wednesday was “laughable”. Ellington tells the House we don’t know the name of the steel company.
Of the 17 “no” votes on the Rone bill, nine came from Republicans including State Reps. Paul Curtman (R-Union) and Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon). The other eight “no” votes came from Democrats, including McCreery and House Assistant Minority Floor Leader Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis).
The Missouri Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Thursday morning on Rone’s Noranda/steel mill legislation.