Legislation aimed at the proposed Grain Belt project in northern Missouri was given initial approval by the Missouri House in Jefferson City on Tuesday afternoon.
The bill from State Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, says no private entity has the power of eminent domain for the purposes of building above-ground merchant lines.
The Missouri House approved Hansen’s House Bill 1062 in a voice vote, after about 70 minutes of floor debate.
It needs one more House vote, before it would move to the Missouri Senate. Hansen tells Missourinet he expects the House to take a final vote on Thursday.
The Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) announced in March it’s approved Grain Belt’s request to construct and operate a high-voltage transmission line across eight northern Missouri counties.
Those counties are Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls. Hansen’s northeast Missouri district includes Monroe and Ralls counties.
About 500 farmers and landowners from across north Missouri packed the Missouri Capitol on Tuesday to rally for Hansen’s bill. The Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and the Missouri Corn Growers Association participated in the rally.
Some of the farmers sat in the House gallery during debate, wearing green shirts which read “Block Grain Belt Express.”
“It’s, I think, our duty as a legislative body to protect people’s personal property rights, and House Bill 1062 addresses the issue,” Hansen tells House colleagues.
Supporters of Hansen’s bill say it would prohibit private companies from using the state power of eminent domain in order to maximize their own profits.
But bill opponents, including State Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, say about 500 megawatts of Grain Belt power would be sold to Missouri municipal utilities and then to end users at a low cost.
Lavender spoke against Hansen’s bill during floor debate.
“In total, there will be less than ten acres of farmland that will be used (by Grain Belt) and the compensation is already in the $32 million realm,” says Lavender.
Representative Lavender tells House colleagues that 39 Missouri cities have already signed up for the Grain Belt project for power, including Chillicothe, Columbia, Farmington, Fredericktown, Hannibal, Kirkwood and Marshall.
State Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, also spoke against the bill on the floor. McCreery says Grain Belt would generate about $7 million annually in property taxes to Missouri political subdivisions.
State Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, also spoke against the bill. He says the city of Hannibal has testified they would save $1 million annually in electricity costs, under the Grain Belt project.
Hansen says this is not about money, but is about private property rights.
“The issue here is this is a private company (Grain Belt) wanting to use private property for private profit,” Hansen says.
His bill is aimed at preventing the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project from using eminent domain in north Missouri.
Farmers in the gallery broke out in applause, after Tuesday’s voice vote.
Missouri Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe (R), House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, and Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, were among the speakers at the rally. Hansen received a standing ovation.
Kehoe spoke to Missourinet after the rally, saying there was an “unbelievable crowd” and that the agricultural community is united.
“I think property rights are the fundamental values of how this country was founded, and I believe the House is going to find the same way,” says Kehoe.
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