N.D. special session: Monday’s agenda

BISMARCK–North Dakota lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday for a special session that will address redistricting, health care reform, disaster relief and the Fighting Sioux nickname.

The session begins at 9 a.m., with both chambers starting the day with floor sessions to address some formalities.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple will address both chambers in the House at 10:15 a.m. to give a bit of a State of the State and to discuss the special session.

The Senate and House Delayed Bills committees will meet at 11 a.m. This is a chance for legislators to submit any bill that they want to see brought up during the session. Both of these committees are Republican controlled, and House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo has stressed the special session will be limited in time (preferably five days) and scope.

So, it will be interesting to see if anything —beyond the Fighting Sioux and disaster relief bills —will be able to get through the Delayed Bills committees.

The hearings begin in the afternoon. (All times are Central Time)

1:30 p.m. redistricting in the Brynhild Haugland Room.

Every 10 years, legislators study the results of the U.S. Census to determine legislative district boundaries. The goal is for districts to have roughly the same number of people.

The bill submitted maintains the same number of districts, 47, but includes changes to reflect North Dakota’s growing population in urban areas. Bismarck and Fargo would each gain a district, while two rural districts in northeastern and north central North Dakota would be eliminated.

In a handful of districts, incumbents would need to run against each other or decide not to seek re-election.

2:30 health care reform  in the Brynhild Haugland Room.

Under the federal health care reform law, states must decide whether they want a state-run health insurance exchange or for the federal government to design an exchange that would be implemented in the state.

The bill before legislators proposes a state-run health insurance exchange. This would involve creating a North Dakota Health Benefit Exchange Board of four ex officio nonvoting members and five voting members appointed by the governor. This board would establish policy for the administration of the health benefit exchange.

The bill would also create a Health Benefit Exchange Division in the Office of Management and Budget, which would be charged with implementing the policy established by the board and administering the health benefit exchange.

There would also be a Health Benefit Exchange Advisory Group and Technical Advisory Group to provide information and advice to the board, Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck said.

The state is proposing to run its own exchange because a legislative committee believes “the state would be much more responsible and accountable in terms of managing our costs than would a federally-based exchange,” Keiser said.

“There was considerable concern that if the federal government were to design an exchange for North Dakota and then just send us a bill for its operation, there were not significant incentives to reduce their costs, whereas in a state-based exchange, we’re responsible for the costs and, we believe, better manage costs,” Keiser said.

One aspect of the bill that’s created disagreement between Republicans and Democrats is the number of people allocated to help the public understand and use the exchange. Republicans propose two “navigators”: the Indian Affairs Commission and the new OMB division.

Keiser said insurance agents and brokers will be able to help the public with the exchange as well.

“We think we can get more value for our dollar by having two navigators than by having 10 or 20,” Keiser said. “It would cost the state so much.”

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said two navigators aren’t enough, and there should be opportunities for citizen groups—such as AARP—to be involved in helping people with the insurance exchange.

2:30 p.m. Fighting Sioux in the Pioneer Room

After approving a law earlier this year that requires the University of North Dakota to keep its Fighting Sioux nickname, legislators will reconsider their action.

Legislators had hoped the show of state support would soften the NCAA’s stance on the nickname. However, state officials were told during an August meeting with the NCAA that the university would still face sanctions if it continues to use the name.

Lawmakers have discussed bills that would repeal the current law or amend it to transfer authority for the nickname and logo issue to the higher education board.

There are also legislators who say they will continue to support keeping the Fighting Sioux nickname law.

4:30 p.m. disaster relief in the Brynhild Haugland Room.

This bill is not finished, but Gov. Jack Dalrymple gave some insight into what will be included.

He expects to see a provision to assist homeowners who are trying to rebuild and remain in their homes after flood damage and who have been the recipient of individual assistance through FEMA.

The bill should also propose an infrastructure grant fund for political subdivisions impacted by flooding, he said. They could apply for grants to help with recovery and new housing development, such as wastewater, water supply, streets, curbs “and other things that have been expense brought on by the disaster,” Dalrymple said.

This would likely be limited to the nine counties designated for individual assistance, he said. (Barnes, Benson, Burleigh, McHenry, Morton, Ramsey, Renville, Richland and Ward.)

The bill will also have a provision dealing with the building of a floodway or floodways through communities and counties, he said.

“Obviously the main potential user of this is Minot,” he said.

The bill would direct the State Water Commission to place a priority on floodway projects.

Dalrymple also sees the bill addressing financially-struggling townships affected by flooding this year.

There will also be an item to expand the state housing tax credit program to stimulate more investment in low-income housing, Dalrymple said. The credits will be targeted to oil counties and disaster areas.

You can find more information about the special session here.

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