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Legislators toil in confrence commitees

With its 80-day deadline looming on May 6, the North Dakota Legislature has a lot to accomplish in just a few days.

Over 100 bills still remain in conference committee and local legislators say it's time to buckle down and get the job done.

"We've finally got really a sense of urgency as far as the conference committees," Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson said. "The challenge in these conference committees is you go from one conference committee to the next and you might be talking about a completely different subject so you have to do your homework."

Wardner said the last days of a session could be likened to college finals, where when you aren't in a committee meeting you're busy studying up for your next one.

"When I leave here I'm going home to study," Wardner said.

Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson said there is still plenty of work to do and sometimes it seems like an almost insurmountable task.

"I really don't see how we're going to get done in eight days, I guess we will," Meyer said. "I just assume that we'll be working until we get it done. If that takes all day and all night then that's probably what's going to happen."

The legislature will meet today, a day that will not count toward the constitutionally required 80-day limit, in an attempt to get ahead of schedule and whittle down the number of bills left in conference committee.

If the House and Senate versions of a bill are different from each other in anyway it heads to conference committee where the differences can hopefully be hammered out by members of each house.

Meyer said it's not unusual for a member from the Senate or from the House to dig their heels in, and that can get frustrating.

"These get to be long, hard days and I think people get tired and tend to be a little grumpier," Meyer said. "It's frustrating when we meet for an hour and don't really accomplish anything other than saying we absolutely disagree with your position and we're not willing to compromise."

Rep. James Kerzman, D-Mott said there is a lot of down-time between conference committee meetings because there are so many and that can wear on a person.

The session has been somewhat drug out, Kerzman said, but a lot of that has to do with the unexpected like the flooding in the eastern part of the state, which led to the legislature losing about a week.

After a long session, however, the budget remains in good shape, Kerzman said.

"I think we're going to have $600 million or so in the coffers that we can rely on for next biennium," Kerzman said. "I think the state is still going to be in pretty good shape."

Wardner said people on both sides of the aisle are simply trying to do what they think is best for the state and they're likely going to take it to the limit this session.

"I think that we're going to need all 80 days," Wardner said. "We'll get done on the 79th or 80th day."