North Dakota lawmakers comprising a powerful legislative panel approved interim committee structures Monday, with some wrangling over minority Democrats serving as committee leaders.
Legislative Management approved 377 members on 27 committees, nearly all of them lawmakers serving on multiple panels, with a few state officials and residents. The committees will meet about five times over the next 15 months to receive reports and advance 46 studies chosen in May or mandated in bills from the recently concluded 2019 Legislature. Potential legislation for the 2021 session might result from findings to be presented in November 2020.
Democrats, who hold 25 of 141 seats in the Legislature, will lead one committee, though Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, unsuccessfully sought to shuffle leadership of two panels, including one for a Bismarck lawmaker.
Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, a former teacher, chaired the Education Policy Committee in the 2017-18 interim. Heckaman unsuccessfully sought to reappoint her. Oban will be the vice chair to Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, a former school superintendent. Heckaman said Oban would not have accepted a chairwoman position outside of education policy.
"I think leadership is pretty much only effective if it's a policy area of which you have become an expert and a respected leader in it," said Oban, who was absent from Monday's meeting.
Republican House Majority Leader Chet Pollert said he and House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, had discussed Democrats holding three or four interim committee chair positions, but only Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, will be a chairman.
Pollert also said he feels he fulfilled his commitment to offer chair positions to Democrats, but Heckaman said he offered no chairs to Senate Democrats. She said she and Boschee meant to defer their offers of chairs to more senior Democrats, but only Mock received a slot.
Democrats held three committee leadership positions in the 2017-18 interim. Committee chairmen and chairwomen organize and preside over meetings.
A handful of Bismarck-Mandan-area lawmakers will chair committees. They include:
- Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck, Judiciary Committee.
- Sen. Donald Schaible, R-Mott, Education Funding Formula Review Committee.
- Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, Health Care Committee.
- Rep. Karen Rohr, R-Mandan, Human Services Committee
- Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr, Natural Resources Committee.
- Rep. Jim Schmidt, R-Huff, Water Topics Overview Committee.
Gov. Doug Burgum will lead the Tribal Taxation Issues Committee, as he did in the 2017-18 interim.
Legislative Management approved more committee members than its budget constraints of 365 members. Legislative Budget Analyst and Auditor Allen Knudson said interim committees are budgeted for 87% attendance. The 2017-18 interim saw 85-86 % attendance, he said.
"We can be monitoring the budget as we go forward, let you know if we run into any problems, but I think the budget can handle it," Knudson said.
Lawmakers said there could be savings from holding back-to-back meetings or forgoing hotels.
Monday's panel also received a tentative schedule which included the convening of the next legislative session on Jan. 5, 2021. Lawmakers are limited to 80 days every two years to set new policy and budgets. The 2019 session used 76 days.