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Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Grand Forks, urged, in April, members of the state House to vote in favor of a funding bill for higher education. While the university system saw cuts, funding for k-12 education remained flat.

State lawmakers committed Wednesday to conducting 50 interim studies, including such topics as state retirement funding, health care and the financial condition of the state's 11 college and university campuses. 

“Our job was made quite easy because the Legislature only passed half the number of studies,” said Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, chairman of the North Dakota Legislative Management. 

In 2015, 111 studies were approved by the Legislature for consideration, of which 44 were studied over the interim.

Though the Health Care Review Reform Committee was set to expire, legislators decided to extend its work.

“We reinstated it due to the Affordable Care Act,” said Holmberg, adding that the uncertainty of federal health care law in Congress made it important to continue monitoring the ACA.

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said he was pleased with an agreement to study the viability of self-funding the Public Employees Retirement System, which he pushed during the past session.

“If we do our homework, we’ll find it’s a better deal,” Carlson said.

An initial recommendation was a study and a proposal that could have been used for the bidding process. However, the PERS language was victim of a line-item veto by Gov. Doug Burgum after lawmakers left town.

Legislators are waiting on an attorney general’s opinion on the constitutionality of some of Burgum’s vetoes.

Committee members said they are hoping for a response from the attorney general prior to their June 13 meeting, at which time they could discuss whether to return to Bismarck to overturn any of the vetoes. A total of 77 days out of the constitutional limit of 80 days were used during the past session.

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said the slate of studies chosen should go a long way in providing a solid foundation of policy ideas to take up in 2019.

“The one on tribal relations, that’s going to be critical for the state,” Wardner said.

A temporary interim Tribal Taxation Issues Committee would consist of the governor, lieutenant governor, tax commissioner, Indian Affairs Commissioner, the majority and minority leaders in both legislative chambers as well as the committee chairs for finance and taxation in both chambers.

Chairmen and leadership from each of the state’s tribes are invited to each committee meeting.

Wardner said he also hopes continued study of behavioral health will add to the initial steps taken by lawmakers this past session.

“For once, I feel like we’re building on something here,” Wardner said.

(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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