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5 things to know today: Health plan, Mediation session, Due process, Senator appointed, Earmarked projects

A select rundown of stories found on InForum.

Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread.jpg
North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread
Photo provided
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1. North Dakota insurance commissioner to scrutinize Sanford Health Plan

North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread announced Thursday, March 17, his office will conduct an in-depth examination of Sanford Health's insurance operations.

The examination of Sanford, the Insurance Department's first, will focus mainly on mental health and addiction services, claims processing and fraud reporting, Godfread said in a news release.

"The purpose of the exam is to make sure one of our larger health insurance companies is following our laws and upholding their promises to North Dakotans," Godfread said.

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Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley

2. Becker County, Teamsters head into last mediation session before strike

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The Becker County Courthouse in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.
File photo / U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Teamsters Union says there was no progress toward averting a strike at a mediation session Tuesday between Becker County and the Teamsters Local 320, which represents 173 county employees — about half the county workforce.

“There was absolutely no progress yesterday,” Teamsters business agent Roger Meunier said Wednesday.

The union has filed an intent to strike with the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services, and the two parties are now in a 10-day “cooling off period” mandated by state law.

They will meet for a final mediation session on Saturday, March 19 at the courthouse, and if they don’t come to an agreement, all 173 employees in the Human Services and Courthouse bargaining units will go on strike on Tuesday, March 22, Meunier said.

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Read more from Forum News Service's Nathan Bowe

3. Court: Cass County prosecutor's 'improper question' did not violate defendant's right to due process

The Cass County Courthouse in October 2016.
The Cass County Courthouse in Fargo. Forum file photo

The North Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that an improper question asked by a Cass County prosecutor during a man's trial on a charge of gross sexual imposition did not violate the defendant's due process rights and therefore did not justify a new trial.

The ruling came in response to an appeal filed with the Supreme Court by Tyler Morrow, the attorney for Mackenzy Bazile, who was convicted in Cass County District Court of gross sexual imposition.

Morrow argued that Bazile deserved a new trial based on the way the prosecutor in the case, Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Ryan Younggren, questioned Bazile during trial.

Younggren, who is a candidate for the job of Cass County state's attorney, admitted in court filings to making a mistake during Bazile's trial in April 2021, but maintained the error he made while questioning Bazile did not rise to the level of prosecutorial misconduct and should not result in a new trial.

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Read more from The Forum's David Olson

4. Democratic North Dakota senator appointed to federal rural development job

erin_oban.jpg
Edwin Hahn
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

The administration of President Joe Biden has appointed Erin Oban, a Democratic state senator from Bismarck, to serve as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's director of rural development for North Dakota.

In her new role, Oban will oversee state operations for an agency that provides funding to rural and tribal communities for housing, economic development, small business assistance and other economic purposes.

The only elected Democrat from Bismarck, Oban announced last year she would not run for reelection in 2022, citing divisiveness in politics.

Oban told Forum News Service on Thursday, March 17, she will resign her legislative position before she is sworn in to her new federal job at the end of the month. The local Democrats in her capital city district will be charged with appointing someone to serve out the last seven months of her term.

Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley

5. Return of earmarks in Congress brings Minnesota projects more than $130M

Moon near full Aerial Lift Bridge Sept 22_2018_S
Moon near full Aerial Lift Bridge Sept. 22, 2018

After a decade-long absence, members of Congress are once again able to direct spending to specific projects in their home districts and states, and Minnesota’s senators and representatives brought home millions in a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill signed by President Joe Biden this week.

The state’s congressional delegation obtained more than $130 million for 70-plus Minnesota-specific projects and programs, a Forum News Service review of the federal legislation found, including law enforcement facilities, wastewater treatment, rural broadband, and other infrastructure projects.

Earmarks, as they are called, are provisions in federal spending bills that directly allocate money for specific programs and circumvent the usual process where government agencies do so on their own guidelines. The practice fell out of favor due to excesses such as Alaska’s notorious “bridge to nowhere” project in the 2000s, and was seen by many as a symbol of waste in Washington.

Read more from Forum News Service's Alex Derosier

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