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Details on Montana’s legislative process and how citizens can participate

Updated: Jan 5

How do the legislatures in the Mountain States work? To answer this question, we checked with legislative officials in Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Wyoming. MSPC sent the same questions about the legislative process to each state. The director of Montana’s Legislative Services Division (LSD) helped with our initial inquiry before retiring. The questions we posed are in italics and the answers are pulled from resources provided by the LSD.

Montana legislature

Length of legislative session/special sessionsWhen do regular legislative sessions begin and how long are they scheduled for? How is a special session called and how long can that session run?

Montana LSD: Article V, Section 6 of the state constitution states: “The legislature shall meet each odd-numbered year in regular session of not more than 90 legislative days. Any legislature may increase the limit on the length of any subsequent session. The legislature may be convened in special sessions by the governor or at the written request of a majority of the members.”

Montana Code 5-2-103 specifies: ‘Each regular session of the legislature shall be convened at the seat of government at 12 noon on the first Monday of January of each odd-numbered year or, if January 1 is a Monday, on the first Wednesday. The legislature shall meet at other times when convened by the governor or by the written request of a majority of the legislators or, when the legislature is in session, by a recorded vote of a majority of the legislators.’”

Bill introduction process/restrictions What is the bill introduction process and are there any restrictions on when or how many bills can be introduced?

Montana LSD: Lawmakers can introduce an unlimited number of bills until 5 p.m. on December 5 before the session starts. After 5:01 p.m. on December 5, lawmakers can only introduce seven new bills. Only two of the seven bill requests may be submitted after noon on January 2 when the session officially starts. General bills can be introduced through the 40th day of the session, fiscal bills and referenda through the 62nd day of the session, and study resolutions through the 79th day of the session (90-day session).

Under the legislative rules, “after a member has requested the drafting of five bills, the sixth bill request and all subsequent bill requests of that member must receive a lower drafting priority than all other bills of members not in excess of five per member.”

Bill reports/fiscal notes Are bill reports and fiscal notes made available publicly before committee/floor action on a bill?

Montana LSD: Bill reports and fiscal notes are available here. Legislative rules say: “If a bill requires a fiscal note, the bill may not be reported from a committee for second reading unless the bill is accompanied by the fiscal note.”

Bill/vote tracking Is there a resource available for the public to track legislative action on bills and committee/floor roll calls?

Montana LSD: Bill status and roll calls are available here.

Public hearings Is there a process for the public to receive notification of public hearing agendas? Are there any time requirements for public hearing agendas to be posted before committee action on a bill (5-day notice, etc.)?

Montana LSD: Under legislative rules: “Notice of a committee hearing must be made by posting the date, time, and subject of the hearing online and in a conspicuous public place not less than 3 legislative days in advance of the hearing.”

There are several exemptions to the 3-day notice requirement, however.

Waiting periods for actions on bills/amendments Are there any waiting period requirements before action can be taken on bill text or amendments (3-day publicly available first, etc.)?

Montana LSD: Under legislative rules: “Every bill must be read three times prior to passage, either by title or by summary of title as provided in these rules. A bill or resolution may not have more than one reading on the same day except the last legislative day. An amendment may not be offered on third reading . . . Until the 50th legislative day, 1 day must elapse between receiving the legislation from printing and scheduling for second reading for consideration by Committee of the Whole unless a posted or printed version of an unamended bill is available.”

This rule, however, is often waived to allow bills to have a second and third reading on the same day, especially near the transmittal deadline and end of the session.

Budget votesAre there any waiting period requirements after a budget has been introduced before legislative action can be taken on the proposal?

Montana LSD: Under legislative rules: “All appropriation bills must originate in the House of Representatives.” See rules for readings of bills above.

Remote testimonyIs remote testimony available for all public hearings? If yes, what are the requirements (sign-in 24hrs before hearing, etc.)?

Montana LSD: Here are the details for remote testimony: “You will be able to select from the bills that are currently scheduled for hearing for the next 4 days. By 5PM the day before the hearing, you will be able to submit your written testimony, write a brief message, or request a Zoom link to testify in the bill hearing. Fill out the form with the pertinent details and submit. You will receive an email confirmation. You do not have to testify in order to submit written comments. Written comments received by the deadline will be distributed to all committee members.

However, if you request a Zoom link, we request that you write a brief message in the event of technical difficulties so that your name will be entered into the record.​ Rules of decorum must be followed and the Presiding Officer will call on you when it is your turn to speak. Follow the Zoom directions and raise your hand to let the Remote Committee Coordinator know when you want to speak. We will not assume that because you requested the Zoom link that you automatically want to testify. There may be limits placed on how many people are allowed to testify remotely on each bill.”

Note: Public Testimony for Conference Committees is in person only.

Video live stream/archivesAre committee hearings and floor action live-streamed and archived? If yes, where are these broadcasts available?

Montana LSD: Live videos and archives of legislative proceedings are available here.

Bill signing processHow long does the governor have to act on a bill after it is approved by the legislature? Is there a pocket-veto or do approved bills automatically become law after a certain amount of time if the governor doesn’t act?

Montana LSD: Article VI, Section 10 of the state constitution specifies that the governor has 10 days to either sign or veto a bill after it is delivered. If no action is taken after 10 days the bill automatically becomes law.

Veto authorityWhat type of veto authority exists for the governor (line item, etc.)?

Montana LSD: According to Article VI, Section of the state constitution: “The governor may veto items in appropriation bills, and in such instances the procedure shall be the same as upon veto of an entire bill.”

Veto override processWhat is the veto override process for the legislature?

Montana LSD: According to Article VI, Section of the state constitution: “The governor may return any bill to the legislature with his recommendation for amendment. If the legislature passes the bill in accordance with the governor's recommendation, it shall again return the bill to the governor for his reconsideration. The governor shall not return a bill for amendment a second time. If after receipt of a veto message, two-thirds of the members of each house present approve the bill, it shall become law.

If the legislature is not in session when the governor vetoes a bill approved by two-thirds of the members present, he shall return the bill with his reasons therefor to the secretary of state. The secretary of state shall poll the members of the legislature by mail and shall send each member a copy of the governor's veto message. If two-thirds or more of the members of each house vote to override the veto, the bill shall become law. The legislature may reconvene as provided by law to reconsider any bill vetoed by the governor when the legislature is not in session.”

Right of referendum/initiativeDo citizens have the right of referendum and initiative? If yes, what are the requirements (are there any restrictions)?

Montana LSD: Article 3, Section 4 of the state constitution authorizes initiatives: “The people may enact laws by initiative on all matters except appropriations of money and local or special laws. Initiative petitions must contain the full text of the proposed measure, shall be signed by at least five percent of the qualified electors in each of at least one-third of the legislative representative districts and the total number of signers must be at least five percent of the total qualified electors of the state. Petitions shall be filed with the secretary of state at least three months prior to the election at which the measure will be voted upon. The sufficiency of the initiative petition shall not be questioned after the election is held.”

As for referendums, Article 3, Section 5 says: “The people may approve or reject by referendum any act of the legislature except an appropriation of money. A referendum shall be held either upon order by the legislature or upon petition signed by at least five percent of the qualified electors in each of at least one-third of the legislative representative districts. The total number of signers must be at least five percent of the qualified electors of the state. A referendum petition shall be filed with the secretary of state no later than six months after adjournment of the legislature which passed the act.

An act referred to the people is in effect until suspended by petitions signed by at least 15 percent of the qualified electors in a majority of the legislative representative districts. If so suspended the act shall become operative only after it is approved at an election, the result of which has been determined and declared as provided by law.”

Montana Code Title 13, Chapter 27 details the process for ballot measures.

Thank you to Montana’s Legislative Services Division for its assistance.

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