- Associated Press - Sunday, April 16, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Is the North Dakota Legislature ready to approve a pilot project for a state takeover of county social services funding? Are lawmakers ready to enact new protections for confidential drug informants? And can the state find the dollars for its proposed two-year spending plan?

North Dakota lawmakers hope to find answers to those and other questions this week, as the 65th session of the Legislature heads toward its home stretch.

Monday is Day 69, and the Legislature will miss its goal of finishing work in 70 days. The House and Senate still have some 60 bills to finish, including most all major spending measures and about two dozen policy bills embroiled in conference committee negotiations.

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IS THE END NEAR?

The North Dakota Constitution limits the Legislature to 80 days of meetings every two years. In the final days of the North Dakota Legislature, conference committees of three House members and three senators are chosen to reconcile differing versions of a bill that has been approved in both chambers. Once a deal is done, the legislation returns to the full House and Senate for approval.

While some policy-related measures may be close to agreement between House and Senate negotiators, there remain sharp differences about the finals details of spending bills as lawmakers struggle to work out final details amid slumping state tax collections.

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STATE SOCIAL SERVICES TAKEOVER

The most recent estimates are that revenues will fall about $595 million short of the state’s proposed $4.3 billion general fund spending plan for the next two-year budget cycle. That’s a bit worse than the $448 million projected just a week ago.

The new estimate reflects costs of a proposal for the state to take over social services costs for the 53 counties under a two-year pilot program that would eliminate counties’ ability to tax for those services.

Six years ago and in the gravy days of North Dakota’s oil bonanza, the Legislature established a so-called tax relief fund that was used to give property owners a 12 percent buydown of property tax rates. Lawmakers say the state can no longer afford to do that.

The fund is expected to have $300 million when the current two-year budget period ends on June 30. A bill to transfer funding responsibilities for social service programs from counties to the state would use about $140 million from the fund to help balance the state budget, while the remainder would be applied to program costs.

Several meetings are expected on the bill this week before it returns to the full Legislature for approval.

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ANDREW’S LAW

Almost three years after Andrew Sadek was found dead in a river with a gunshot to his head and a backpack of rocks tied to his body, the North Dakota Legislature is putting the final touches on a bill aimed at better protecting confidential drug informants like the 20-year-old college student whose death raised questions about recruiting young, low-level drug offenders for undercover police work.

The bill called “Andrew’s Law” comes after his parents, Tammy and John Sadek, lobbied lawmakers to pass legislation so that informants can be better informed of their legal options to understand the risks they may be taking.

The proposed legislation clarifies the rights of people offered the role as a confidential drug informant, including their right to an attorney. It also requires a written agreement stating the “the inherent risk associated with acting as an informant.”

The bill has broad, bipartisan support from both chambers, police and the Sadek family. The Senate and the House are expected to vote on the bill this week.


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