Montana Legislature working at historic levels
April 11, 2023
[This is a repost from Montana Legislative Services – April 10, 2023]
The Montana Legislature is working at a pace not seen in at least half a century.
As of Monday, April 10, lawmakers introduced 1,644 bills — a number second only to the number introduced in 1973. That year, the Legislature implemented the provisions of the recently passed constitution, meaning the 2,211 bills introduced in 1973 were part of an effort to build a body of law from the ground up.
Montana is one of the few states with citizen, not full-time, legislators; the members are either retired or still have day jobs. Montana is one of four states that meet every other year. So, when the Montana Legislature gathers, the result is about four months’ worth of early mornings and late nights for legislators and everyone else who makes the session go round.
“I’m just amazed at the stamina of everyone involved in the legislative process,” said Jerry Howe, the executive director of the Legislative Services Division, which provides bill drafting, technical, and other services for the Legislature.
“Everyone always works hard during session,” Howe said, “But it’s especially impressive given the number of bills legislators are introducing and debating.”
Even though the Legislature has up to 29 working days left this session, it is unlikely that it will break the record for introduced bills because many of the drafting deadlines have already passed. Even so, the Legislature has already drafted more than 2,700 amendments, eclipsing all of those drafted in the 2021 session.
Behind each bill or amendment is a legislator, known as the sponsor. But a slew of other people work behind the scenes on proposed legislation to get it drafted properly, distributed to legislators, and published on www.leg.mt.gov.
The Legislative Services Division employs 13 research analysts and 10 attorneys who write bills and amendments. The number of bills assigned to and completed by each drafter varies widely based on subject area expertise and time spent fulfilling other obligations, most notably providing support to committees that hear all the bills and amendments. But based on averages alone, each bill drafter has written 71 bills that were introduced and more than 100 amendments so far this session.
All told, the bill drafters, editors, and proofers worked an extra 3,600 hours above and beyond the usual 40-hour week since January – or an amount of work that’s the equivalent of almost eight additional people over the first three months of session.
Of course, the entire system is powered by computers, and the legislative information services department keeps things operating in sync. That department alone has exceeded its regular 40-hour weeks by more than 3,700 hours.
Other state employees have logged thousands more hours above and beyond the regular workday, including the Legislative Services Division staff who print the bills and issue paychecks, the Legislative Fiscal Division which helps write the budget, the staff in the House and Senate chambers who keep meetings and floor sessions running on time, and executive branch employees who write fiscal notes, testify at legislative hearings, and answer a multitude of questions.
All of this to support legislators, who work as many, if not more hours than anyone else in the building.
With few exceptions, every introduced bill is guaranteed a committee hearing. The number of hearings is also eclipsing anything in recent history. The House Judiciary Committee, which is always busy, held hearings on 265 bills as of April 5, more than the committee has heard in any session dating back to 1999.
All these hearings are generating intense public interest. Montana is known for its public involvement and transparency in government. Each committee meeting is video streamed, and some are televised on the Montana Public Affairs Network.
Members of the public may testify in person or over Zoom. The latter option, in place since the 2021 legislative session, allows more interested parties to provide input on bills. Legislators may also be contacted directly by e-mail or through the information desk operated by the Legislative Services Division. So far more than 400,000 messages have been delivered to lawmakers.
Contact: Jerry Howe, Legislative Services Executive Director, 444-3066
|MONTANA STATE LEGISLATURE|
State Capitol | PO Box 201706 | Helena, MT 59620-1706