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Contentious bills to kick off agenda

BISMARCK - Senate budget-builders set up a major showdown for this week when they adopted a wholesale change to the main property tax relief plan late Friday.

BISMARCK - Senate budget-builders set up a major showdown for this week when they adopted a wholesale change to the main property tax relief plan late Friday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also restored pay increases for North Dakota University System employees before leaving for the weekend.

Friday was supposed to be the last day that spending bills could be acted on by the two chambers' appropriations committees, but the House still has some bills left to take final action on when they return Monday, including the Human Services Department budget and another tax relief bill, Senate Bill 2032.

The Senate committee's action late Friday changed House Bill 1051, which had begun as the governor's plan for universal property tax relief, into a homestead tax credit program for homeowners in the state who make

$45,000 per year or less. Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, proposed the plan last week. In its amended form, the bill now does not provide tax relief for ag land and commercial property owners, nor for homeowners with incomes above $45,000. But it deletes spending caps on local governments, which cities and counties had opposed.


The Grindberg amendment is what's called a "hoghouse" - it replaced the entire previous bill. But while the committee adopted the amendment, it also voted to send the bill to the full Senate with a do-not-pass recommendation.

Senate appropriators also Friday undid the House's February action that lowered proposed raises in the higher education system. House Bill 1003 had entered the session with proposed 5 percent pay raises for university system employees each of the next two years, but the House had knocked them down to 4-and-4 to match other state employee raises.

Senators also finished their work on a Department of Corrections bill that contains no major construction. That's as expected; senators had said weeks ago they were not inclined to renovate parts of the State Penitentiary and replace a cell house as Gov. John Hoeven had requested, nor were they in favor of a completely new prison, as the House had approved.

All the committee actions on spending bills are likely to send those measures into conference committee negotiations.

This week, the Legislature begins what some seasoned lawmakers call the "third half" of the session, when they begin to wrap up their work. The "third half" is when conference committees start reconciling House and Senate bills in which the two chambers passed different versions.

The House and Senate passed dozens of "do not concur" motions Friday and began naming members to conference committees, though none are yet scheduled to meet. When meetings do get scheduled, they will show up on the Legislature's Web site at www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/60-2007/committee-hearings/conf-comm.html .

The session's completion is still weeks away.

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