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ND GOP picks leaders, Dems will decide next month

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BISMARCK — Republican leadership in the 2017 North Dakota Legislature will remain largely intact, while Democrats will meet next month to determine their new leadership.

House Republicans will forge ahead in 2017 with Majority Leader Al Carlson, of Fargo, and Assistant Majority Leader Don Vigesaa, of Cooperstown, maintaining the one-two punch they've held since the 2009 session.

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, during a break of the North Dakota Legislative Management meeting at the House chambers, Vigesaa said the majority caucus leader will be Dickinson Rep. Mike Lefor. On Tuesday, the GOP caucus voted for Larry Bellew, of Minot, to serve as speaker of the House.

"That usually changes each session," Vigesaa said of the two roles.

Lefor replaces Scott Louser, of Minot, while Bellew replaces Wesley Belter, of Fargo.

"On the Senate side, it's the same," said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, of Dickinson.

Wardner will once again team up with Assistant Majority Leader Jerry Klein, of Fessenden. They took on those roles in the 2013 session. David Hogue, of Minot, will remain the majority caucus leader.

The 17 members of Legislative Management began the two-day process Wednesday of receiving and voting on the 23 interim committee reports. Most of the rest of the Legislature and newly elected members were on hand to take in the reports.

During the interim, committees held 133 meetings. A total of 49 bills and two resolutions are in the committee reports to be accepted for submission to the 2017 Legislature.

This was down from 150 meetings during the 2013-14 interim, which produced 74 bills that went to the Legislature.

The reports heard Wednesday included such topics as K-12 and higher education, water and energy development.

Bismarck Republican Rep.-elect Pat Heinert said the reports contain a lot to digest prior to January. New lawmakers take office Dec. 1.

"There's going to be a steep learning curve," said Heinert, adding his experience testifying in past sessions in his role as Burleigh County sheriff will be helpful in learning the ropes.

Sheets for lawmakers to submit preferences for committee assignments were made available this week; committee assignments will be made during the Dec. 5-7 organizational session.

Democrats will select their minority leadership Dec. 4.

They'll need to replace minority leaders in both chambers since Parshall Rep. Kenton Onstad and Grand Forks Sen. Mac Schneider were defeated in their re-election bids earlier this month. Ben Hanson, of West Fargo, one of two minority caucus leaders, and Senate caucus leader Phil Murphy, of Portland, also lost on Election Day.

Sen. Joan Heckaman, of New Rockford, served as assistant minority leader in 2015. She hasn't decided yet whether she'll put her name in for minority leader, but those discussions among the Dem-NPL caucus will begin this week while everyone is in Bismarck.

"Even though we're small, we still have a voice. It's business as usual," Heckaman said.

Corey Mock, of Grand Forks, who served as assistant minority leader in the House in 2015, is among those considering trying for the minority leader position.

During the next session, Republicans will have an 81-13 majority in the House and a 38-9 Senate majority, their greatest majorities in decades.

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