- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Legislature’s goal of finishing its work five days before the constitutional 80-day limit increasingly seems fantastical, as lawmakers have several contentious measures still to work through this session.

Monday is Day 71, which means North Dakota’s Senate and House have just nine days to clear bills on their respective calendars.

Data from the Legislative Council, the North Dakota Legislature’s research arm, show 111 bills remained at midday Friday. Some 70 of those measures are in conference committees, where House and Senate members work to reconcile differing versions of bills that have been endorsed in the other chamber.

Still ahead are big topics, including budget and tax bills, and an oil-tax measure that was introduced on Friday by GOP leaders that is being blasted by Democrats and leaders from the oil-rich Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

The GOP-sponsored measure would permanently lower an extraction tax on oil by more than 30 percent instead of allowing an exemption to take effect that might be only temporary if oil prices rebound.

GOP leaders said the proposal will give the state “stability and predictability” in structuring future spending plans. Democrats call it a “back-room” bill and “a terrible deal for the people of North Dakota in the long term.”

The Three Affiliated Tribes said there is a “strong possibility” that the tribe would pull out of a tax accord with the state if the GOP bill passes.

Also pending is a bill to revamp a formula used to distribute oil and gas production tax revenue, a move aimed at giving more funding to communities to help pay for the consequences of oil development. The bill that would give more funding to counties, cities, schools and townships in and around western North Dakota’s oil patch is one of the most debated of the session. Its final version has yet to be decided by a conference committee of three representatives and three senators.

Another contentious measure yet to be decided is one that would provide almost $1 million to fund for a state-run rail safety program intended to supplement federal oversight of burgeoning oil train traffic.

North Dakota’s Republican-led House doesn’t like the idea but the Senate does and so do Democrats. Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak, a Republican, last year called for the creation of the safety program. GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple also has supported the idea, following a spate of accidents involving North Dakota crude in the U.S. and Canada - including a fiery derailment in the governor’s hometown of Casselton.

And the Legislature has yet to decide whether to build a new $5 million home for the state’s first family. A conference committee is slated to meet Monday on the issue.

Lawmakers have been attempting to replace the current 55-year-old dwelling for years, saying it is has security issues, is not accessible for people with physical disabilities, and likely contains lead paint, mold and asbestos.

Lawmakers have defeated measures in the past two sessions for a new governor’s mansion.

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