A bill heads to the state Senate today that could determine whether hundreds of jobs will open up in a poverty-stricken area of Missouri. It would give special electric rate deals to an aluminum plant and a steel mill that want to open in southeast Missouri.

After a five hour debate on Wednesday, the House passed the measure 120-17 and sent it to the Senate.

Missouri state capitol

Bill supporters say it could help create about 500 high-paying jobs in the bootheel region. They also say Missouri’s industrial electric rates are not competitive with other states.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, supports controversial language removed from the bill that would relax regulations in order to let utility monopoly Ameren replace aging equipment.

“We have a crumbling infrastructure that we are not willing to fix,” says Nasheed. “I think that this is a perfect time because this is extraordinary because we will create 3,000 jobs, not just 500 jobs in the bootheel.”

The wording that Nasheed wants could be added back into the measure during the legislature special session that’s underway.

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, is concerned about ratepayers making up the difference.

“If you have a business model that only works by getting millions of dollars in subsidies from ratepayers, it’s not a viable business,” says Koenig. “I certainly wouldn’t want to pass something that would allow basically a subsidy to a steel mill or an aluminum smelter if they’re providing energy below cost and then they have to shift that to ratepayers.”

Sens. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, and Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles, say the measure would give the companies lower rates for up to ten years.

“Wouldn’t you like to think that ten years from now, senator, that the rate you’re paying to Ameren would the same rate you’re paying today,” asks Schupp.

“I’d like that at my own personal residence, senator. And my business,” exclaimed Eigel.

The state legislature could finish its special session today.