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Rep. Shannon Roers Jones

Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, introduces House Bill 1097 to the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee on Jan. 9 at the state Capitol in Bismarck. The bill would allow retailers the choice to be open on Sunday mornings. 

The chief backer of a bill restructuring North Dakota’s higher education governance said Monday she will introduce an amendment seeking to split the system into two boards instead of the three proposed by a task force led by Gov. Doug Burgum.

Fargo Republican Rep. Shannon Roers Jones said the two-board proposal, which would put the state’s two research universities under one panel instead of separating them, would have a better chance in the Legislature. The change is also a response to some fears that the state’s smaller schools would be “left behind,” she said.

House Bill 1500 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Education Committee Tuesday morning. Voters would ultimately need to agree to reshuffling the higher education system because the existing board is written in the state constitution.

The bill was the product of a task force convened by Burgum to examine the state’s higher education governance structure. Elected on a promise of government reinvention, the first-term Republican said it was time to consider reforms after having a similar model in place for 80 years.

The 15-member task force, which included lawmakers, business leaders and higher education officials, voted in favor of a three-board model in November. But Burgum supports amending the bill to a two-board system, his spokesman Mike Nowatzki said.

The existing North Dakota University System consists of 11 colleges and universities and is overseen by one board with eight voting members appointed by the governor, along with faculty and staff non-voting advisers. Burgum has argued having multiple boards would allow for more “nimble” leadership.

As introduced, Roers Jones’ bill would create a new structure with three boards: one each for North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota and one for the regional and community institutions. It would also install a new Office of Higher Education, with its leader serving as a member of the governor’s Cabinet.

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