JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House of Representatives voted in opposition to the construction of the Grain Belt Express transmission project for the second time in two years on Monday.
House Bill 2033, which was passed by a vote of 118-42, says that “no entity shall have the power of eminent domain ... for the purpose of constructing above-ground merchant lines.” The bill now heads to the Senate, where lawmakers ran out of time to overcome opposition at the end of last session and vowed to revisit it in 2020.
The Grain Belt Express would run 800 miles between Kansas and Indiana and include three converter stations, one of which would be in Missouri, according to the project’s site. Two hundred miles of the route would run through eight Missouri counties, delivering 500-megawatts of wind-generated power to certain cities and towns in the state’s electric grid, including Columbia.
Rep. Sheila Solon, R-St. Joseph, was one of many who voiced her opposition to the use of eminent domain specifically.
“Eminent domain is an incredibly powerful tool that should be used rarely ... and by having elected folks make these decisions, it adds accountability to the people they serve and who elect them,” Solon said. “An out-of state, private company doesn’t care about our citizens and it’s going to be worrying about reporting to stockholders and the bottom line.”
Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark, who voted against the bill, said other private companies already have lines going through Missouri and have used eminent domain.
“We’re wanting to fix this problem of which there has been no noted misuse of the current law,” Miller said. “Basically we’ve got a solution and we’re looking for a problem. That’s a problem.”
Democratic Reps. Kip Kendrick and Martha Stevens of Columbia voted against the bill, while Republicans Sara Walsh of Ashland, Cheri Toalson Riesch of Hallsville and Chuck Basye of Rocheport voted in favor.
The House also sent to the Senate House Bill 1450 which would make “knowingly distributing, delivering, manufacturing, or producing” fentanyl a first degree drug trafficking offense, if the amount is more than 10 milligrams.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, said that although trafficking fentanyl is a serious offense, he was “concerned about the direction this bill is taking us,” addressing specifically a governor and legislature he said favored building more prisons and incarcerating more people.
“This bill takes us in a direction where we are going to be incarcerating up to 100 additional people every year and spending up to $1.4 million dollars additionally a year,” Dogan said.
Dogan also criticized the law’s definition of fentanyl trafficking, noting that federal law’s definition is forty times that of the state’s proposed 10 milligram standard.
Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel, who said he voted against the bill last year because he had reservations about increasing laws and criminal provisions if not absolutely necessary, said he changed his position after learning more about fentanyl.
“I think this is perhaps an appropriate place to draw this line, and it’s serious enough that we’ve got to take this hard stance,” Deaton said.
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