Created on Tuesday, 22 April 2014 Written by JULIE CARR SMYTH, AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Opponents of a bill turning back Ohio's alternative energy targets say the Senate utilities chairman has disrespected and intimidated witnesses during hearings on the measure, allegations he denies.
FILE - In this March 2, 2011, file photo, Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz speaks during a floor debate in Columbus, Ohio. Opponents of a bill turning back Ohio's alternative energy targets are alleging Seitz, the Senate utilities chairman, has disrespected and offended witnesses during hearings on the measure. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
A veteran who works for the Sierra Club wrote a letter of complaint about state Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, to Senate President Keith Faber. He says Seitz mocked the Bataan Death March in which 650 American soldiers were killed and spoke in a German accent while speaking of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.
Other witnesses say Seitz walked out on a clergy member and pretended to shoot himself in the head when listening to the state's watchdog for utility consumers.
"This behavior is completely devoid of any honor or respect, and is not becoming of the Ohio Senate or the State of Ohio," wrote veteran Dan Sawmiller, the Sierra Club's senior campaign representative for Ohio and Kentucky.
Seitz, a lawyer and veteran lawmaker known for colorful floor speeches and candid quips, says opponents are taking him out of context. He says he's allowed many hours of opponent testimony on the bill, more than many other committees hearing other controversial bills.
Of the Bataan Death March comment, he said, "I don't recall saying it, but if I did I was probably referring to the endless parade of witnesses they've brought forward to try to filibuster this bill."
Seitz said the April 9 hearing about which Sawmiller complained lasted 5½ hours.
In his letter, Sawmiller said Seitz "has often times referred to the positions of those he doesn't agree with as being akin to Joseph Stalin's '5-year plan'" and once "stood up, opened his pack of Marlboro Lights and walked out on (another) veteran's testimony."
A spokesman for Faber said he never received the letter.
Seitz says the group — among Ohio's most vocal and well-funded to speak out against freezing percentage targets for the use of renewable and alternative energy sources — is raising claims about his behavior to stir up support for its position on the bill.
"They haven't succeeded in their efforts to filibuster the bill out of existence, so now they're complaining about the process," he said.
Under a 2008 Ohio law, utilities are required to produce 12.5 percent of their energy from renewable sources and another 12.5 percent from advanced sources by 2025. It's been called the "25 by '25" standard.
A bill effectively repealing those targets repeatedly stalled last year, so a new proposal was brought before Seitz's committee proposing freezing targets at 2014 levels. That would halt percentage increases scheduled to continue for 11 more years, a move opponents say is an effective repeal.
State Sen. Bill Coley, a member of the utilities committee, said Seitz has "probed and pushed and prodded" witnesses during testimony on both bills this past year, but he has not disrespected anyone.
"Bill is just being Bill, but I don't think he went over the top," said Coley, a Middletown Republican. "I can understand people being surprised if they expected that their position would just be accepted without question or if they expected to be handled with kid gloves. He definitely did not do that, but nor do I. We ask tough questions, that's our job."