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Some lawmakers were more optimistic than others this week when hazarding their guesses as to when their work will come to an end and the 2017 Legislature will adjourn sine die.

With a number of tough budgets yet to be fleshed out between the House and Senate in conference committees as well as several other major initiatives still in the hopper, opinions varied.

“Next Friday or Saturday, we’ll be done,” said Rep. Jason Dockter, R-Bismarck, adding after the Friday morning’s floor session, he’s being optimistic based on the number of bills remaining.

Prior to beginning Friday's work, the 68th day of the session, there were 90 bills remaining waiting for action. Of these, 56 bills were still in conference committee.

North Dakota Legislative Council officials said this was compared to the same time in 2015 when there were 151 total bills, of which 74 were still in conference committee.

The budget gap still needing to be closed stood at about $595 million as of Friday morning.

Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, said her guess for adjournment was April 22.

“Last night, the House speaker told me that was his guess,” said Steiner, adding she believes, as a member of leadership, he should have an inside track on the timeline.

Steiner and Dockter’s neighbor in the row in front of them on the House floor, Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, was less optimistic.

“My guess is a week from Tuesday,” Koppelman said.

If lawmakers met for a few extra hours per day to work in conference committees rather than working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., more work could be done and his colleagues’ guesses might be more realistic, Koppelman said.

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He went on to jokingly chide the Senate, which he said could “be more reasonable” in accepting the House versions of bills to move the process along.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, chuckled when asked if lawmakers will adjourn next week.

“I picked Day 74,” Cook said, adding that that was his guess from a pool he entered a month ago.

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Day 74 would either be April 22, if lawmakers chose to push into the weekend to finish, or April 24.

Leadership has long said they hope to bank at least some days out of the 80-day limit in case there’s a need to return later to respond to potential federal health care law changes or any budget issues.

County social services bill in conference

The first meeting of a conference committee on the proposed state takeover of county social services funding led to one area of agreement: The bill will require work down to the wire this session.

As the bill stood after House amendments, it has a $161 million price tag and would be a two-year pilot program with a study during the interim to develop a permanent program. The dollars would come from the $300 million set aside in the Tax Relief Fund for property tax relief; the remaining would go toward balancing the budget.

Cook said it’ll take a few days of meetings next week to “see where the dollars wind up” before finalizing a deal.

The Senate version contained more than $100 million more, providing for hold-harmless dollars that House leadership isn’t keen to accept.

“Time is of the essence. We need to just keep meeting,” said Dockter, adding it’ll likely take multiple meetings per day next week to agree to the right dollar amount among other adjustments.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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