Day two of organizational session in Bismarck and today thirty five new legislators join returning members in learning their committee assignments. There is a lot of jockeying between leadership in both chambers to come up with these assignments. Both chambers have their own methods and reasoning in producing the end product. Let’s highlight some of the assignments, one chamber at a time.
The Appropriations Committee has a few new faces this session. This committee will have a tall task in finalizing the budget for the next biennium. Among the new members is Dem-NPL State Senator John Grabinger. Grabinger replaces David O’Connell who was defeated in November. I think it is a good fit as Grabinger has experience in creating budgets in the business he owns and when he served on the Jamestown City Commission. Senator Dick Dever shifts over from the Human Services committee. Dever was very knowledgeable in the Human Services committee. I consider his move a loss for Senator Judy Lee who remains chair of Human Services. I hope Dever brings that experience to protecting important services in that Department.
Energy and Natural Resources has a new Chair in Senator Jessica Unruh. Unruh is promoted from her Vice Chairmanship last session. A big proponent of all things energy, she sides with the industry frequently. In 2015, Unruh lowered the funding caps passed by the more conservative House on the Outdoor Heritage Fund a fund the industry has had issues with since before its creation.
As I said above, the Senate Human Services lost experience when Dever went to Appropriations. To compensate, they expanded the committee from six to seven. A good move for a very busy committee. The one concern I have on this committee is the addition of Senator David Clemens. No, it is not because Clemens defeated me in November! Rather, Clemens publicly pledged that he supports pulling the state out of Medicaid Expansion. Though Governor Dalrymple included a reauthorization of Medicaid Expansion in his budget and it’ll like go through Appropriations, not Human Services, it is still of concern. A lot of Medicaid services will come before this committee. Will he treat them like he intends to treat Medicaid Expansion?
On the Education Committee, newly elected Senator Jordan Kannianen was appointed. Kannianen is a home school advocate. According to readers in the area, none of his children have gone to public school. This will set up as a focal point to watch as the legislature meets starting in January.
The last appointment that stands out to me is Judiciary. Newly elected State Senator Janne Myrdal will serve here. Myrdal has made it no secret her primary focus is on abortion-related issues. She was state director for Concerned Women for America and instrumental in the pro-life legislation that was passed by the 2013 legislature. Those bills all went through Judiciary at the time where their champion was former State Senator Margaret Sitte. All of these bills were later struck down by the courts. The makeup of the courts may be different with President Trump. Couple that with an even more conservative legislature. Will Myrdal follow in Sitte’s footsteps?