(This post has been updated)
Minnesota House Republicans, preparing to take over the majority following the results of November's election, have announced a roster of 26 House committees that put a particular focus on rural Minnesota issues.
New committees include a separate Agriculture Finance Committee, to be chaired by Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake. Republicans from outstate Minnesota complained bitterly two years ago when Democrats rolled agriculture finance issues into a broader Environment and Agriculture Finance Committee, which was chaired by a lawmaker from Minneapolis.
Republicans also created or re-tooled several committees that seem geared toward rural Minnesota concerns. An Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee will be chaired by Rep. Joe Schomacker of Luverne, and comes amid concerns about lack of funding for nursing homes in small communities.
In addition, the Jobs and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee has become the "Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Committee." It will be chaired by Rep. Bob Gunther of Fairmont. Another new committee is the Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee, to be chaired by Rep. Tom Hackbarth of Cedar.
"I'm proud to say that more than half of our chairmen represent communities in greater Minnesota and will be an integral part of a renewed effort to represent the entire state in policy-making," said Rep. Kurt Daudt, who Republicans chose to take over as speaker in January.
Rep. Paul Thissen, the Minneapolis DFLer who will transition from speaker to minority leader in January, said the new committees reflect a "divide and conquer" approach to integrating urban and rural concerns.
"It is disappointing to see Republicans in the House continue to focus more on talking points than solutions," Thissen said.
A handful of veteran Republican lawmakers will lead the most influential committees. Rep.-elect Jim Knoblach of St. Cloud, who is returning to the Legislature after eight years away, will once again chair the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which assembles the state budget. Knoblach previously chaired Ways and Means from 2003 to 2006. Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, will resume chairmanship of the Taxes Committee, which he previously led in 2011-12.
Funding for transportation is expected to be a major issue in the 2015 session, which starts Jan. 5. To lead the Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, Republicans tapped Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing. It's an unconventional choice in that Kelly does not currently serve on any transportation committees. But he has a moderate reputation, and it could be a signal that House Republicans want to engage with DFL Gov. Dayton and the new Senate DFL majority in tackling what all agree is a growing shortfall in funding for the state's transportation system.
A full list of the new committee chairs can be found here.