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Senate okays merger of Health Dept with Human Services -- by one vote

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By a single vote, the Senate has approved merging the state Health Department with the Department of Human Services.

As amended in the Senate, HB 1247 calls for a gradual merger, aided by an outside consultant. That consultant would be paid for through the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Senator Judy Lee (R-West Fargo), the chair of  the Senate Human Services Committee, told the Senate this measure would not result in immediate job cuts.

"It's important to let the good people who are working in those departments know that there's not this immediate guillotine hanging over their heads," Lee said. "We want them to be engaged in the process of making the change."

Sen. Ron Sorvaag (R-Fargo) argued to keep those agencies separate.

"They're more efficient because they're small," Sorvaag said. "It's transparency, and accountability."

Sorvaag said because on occasion, there's an issue between the two, they are better off standing alone.

"We'll get a better bang for our buck in the long term," Sorvaag said.

The bill passed on a 24 to 23 vote. Unless reconsidered, it will go back to the House to see if it agrees with the Senate changes.

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