Now that the dust has settled on the 2017 North Dakota Legislature, a group of lawmakers will return to Bismarck next week to begin laying the groundwork for the session set to begin in 18 months.
The 17-member North Dakota Legislative Management team will spend much of its meeting Wednesday prioritizing the slate of 2017-18 interim studies and to which committees lawmakers will be assigned.
Typically, about 40 studies are chosen for the interim. Fifty-two studies will be reviewed by the committee: 47 are optional studies and the remaining five are mandatory.
North Dakota Legislative Council Director Jim Smith said this was significantly down from the 111 studies that were whittled down to a total of 44 in 2015 for the previous interim.
Optional studies for consideration include looking at parts of the state’s K-12 funding formula, changing city and local election dates to November, wind energy taxation and the impact of a victim’s rights measure, known as Marsy’s Law.
Lawmakers will be sent questionnaires allowing them to identify their interim committee preferences. On June 13, a basic committee structure for the interim will be approved.
Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, chairman of Legislative Management, said Wednesday’s process is fairly straightforward. There routinely are requests to add items to the existing list of studies or add items to the scope of various studies.
One item that may be brought forward is to study the financial condition of the state’s 11 college and university campuses as part of interim committee work on higher education, according to Holmberg.
“It’s not on the agenda, but I’m sure it’ll come up,” Holmberg said of the matter of whether or not the Legislature should reconvene to take up some of Gov. Doug Burgum’s vetoes.
Republican leadership recently said nothing likely will be done about the vetoes. Holmberg said it “could be a possibility” that items, such as studying the Public Employees Retirement System, may be proposed as additional study items.
“Anything that deals with social services is a priority, anything that deals with property taxes is a priority,” Rep. Jim Schmidt, R-Huff, said.
Schmidt, who’s serving on Legislative Management for a third interim, chaired the Water Topics Overview Committee last interim, which he said he’d like to do again.
During the previous interim he scheduled multiple meetings that included the State Water Commission as well as visits to sites away from the Capitol, something he said more committees ought to try and do in order to gather more information firsthand.
“I really think the interim committees need to be more active,” Schmidt said.
Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, who’s on Legislative Management for the first time, said further studying of behavioral health needs in the state will be important. Some strides were made in incarceration, but more will need to be done in that area, too.
“I think we do our best when we dive into serious issues over the interim,” said Oban, adding that any ideas developed that can help streamline K-12 education without taking away from services would be a positive.
Though not a member of Legislative Management, Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, said he’d like to serve on the Employee Benefits Committee and see it more closely track what’s being done by the PERS board of which he’s also a member. He said to more closely track what the PERS board is doing could help heal “a rift that exists between the House and Senate” when it comes to the PERS board and the state employee health insurance contract.