North Dakota lawmakers are set for marathon days this week with major bills still to sort out in the Legislature's final days.
"We're moving along slow but sure, just like a snail, so I'd like to speed things up just a little bit," Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, told the Senate on Friday morning, the Legislature's 72nd official day of a maximum 80. Lawmakers are eyeing Wednesday or Thursday to adjourn.
Thirty-one conference committees remained as of mid-Friday. Legislative leaders said other major bills have yet to reach House-Senate panels for reconciling differences, such as the Office of Management and Budget bill, which is historically the last budget the Legislature handles.
"We've got these budget bills that we're very close on that seem to be bogged down with, I would say, insignificant issues, but to somebody, it's not," Wardner said. "We just need to keep working through them."
Conference committee agreements reached Friday afternoon would help move the load on Monday, Wardner said.
Lawmakers are crafting a likely record two-year budget and figuring out federal coronavirus aid, money for which they're still awaiting guidelines.
North Dakota is set to receive $1.89 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan stimulus package, according to Office of Management and Budget Director Joe Morrissette. No guidance or allocations have yet come from the U.S. Treasury Department, he said.
Lawmakers are trying to save days for meeting in November for redrawing legislative districts and designating coronavirus aid, said House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington.
"We've got some key issues to be working on and it just takes a lot of meetings," he said.
Remaining conference committees will meet at least twice, and maybe three times or even four times in the dwindling days, he said.
Major items remaining include education funding, earnings of the state's oil tax savings and the budget for the state Department of Human Services -- the largest agency budget at more than $4.5 billion.
Federal money "has really caused us a lot of consternations," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood.
"The biggest problem with it is you have to make sure that it's not done such that it puts us in a position where we can't sustain things that we're doing, so we don't want to spend that on ongoing funding," Delzer said.
Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, sees "some heavy lifting bills left," such as budgets for the Commerce Department and the Office of Management and Budget, which have yet to go to conference committees and likely will take "a number of meetings." She had hoped some of the remaining panels would meet Saturday, but they did not.
"We have to keep our nose to the grindstone and get done here," she said.
Wardner hopes Monday "speeds up a lot."
"There was a variety show host when I was growing up that always used to say as he ended his show, 'Keep them cards and letters coming,'" Wardner told the Senate. "I'm saying 'Keep them conference committees coming.'"
The 2019 Legislature used 76 days.
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