Montana legislators are considering over 3000 bills this session that will add to or change Montana’s existing laws. By tracking a bill through the legislative process, you can take advantage of every opportunity to contact legislators with your views.
There is a chart showing how a bill becomes law on page 10 in the instructional booklet A Guide to the Montana Legislature, which can be found at: 2019guide-montana-legislature.pdf (mt.gov)
The Legislature’s user-friendly website allows you to follow bills through the legislative process and find the complete text for each bill. Go the legislature’s webpage: https://leg.mt.gov/ The BILL SEARCH feature on the webpage takes you to the Montana Legislature Bill Look-up Page, which allows you to search for bills by number, legislator, sponsor or subject.
At the very bottom of the Bill Look-up Page is a link to instructional videos for using the page. See http://leg.mt.gov/bills/demos/
Searching by Bill Number
Every bill has a number. Senate bills begin with the initials SB and House bills begin with HB. This numbers stays the same throughout the legislative process, so once you know a bill’s number, you can find and follow it through the House, Senate and committees. If you know the number of the bill you are looking for, use the dropdown menu to select HB or SB, enter the bill number and click Find. The Montana Legislature Detailed Bill Information Page for that bill will appear.
Every bill has a Detailed Information Page. At the top of this page is general information including the primary sponsor of the bill and the bill’s short title. If the proposed text of the bill is available, next to Current Bill Text there will be a HTML and a PDF icon you can click that will take you to the most recent version of the text of the bill. Bills usually include references to the Montana Code Annotated (MCA), expect to see this in the bill text.
Below the general information is a section called Bill Actions that has a table of every action that has been taken on the bill to date, with the most recent action at the top. The table has columns that list the action taken, the date of the action, the vote count if a vote was involved, and the name of the committee(s) where hearings have or will take place.
Searching by Legislator, Sponsor or Subject
If you don’t know the number of the bill you are looking for, the second section of the Bill Look-up Page will search for a bill by the name of the legislators who have requested it, the subject of the bill, or the legislator who is the bill’s primary sponsor. Drop down menus allow you to select a legislator’s name or a bill’s subject. Then click on the Find button. A new page will appear with a table of bills that fit your search. Bills that have been introduced are in the top table and bills that are waiting to be introduced are in a table at the bottom. Click on the bill number in the left column to go to the Detailed Information Page for that bill.
Tracking Multiple Bills
What if you would like to follow all the bills that deal with a certain subject, for example health care. Or, you want to follow all the bills introduced by Native American legislators. You can set up your own Preference Account from the bottom of the Bill Look-up Page. Setting up the account requires an email account and a password. Once you have set up your account, you can add the bills that you want to track. The Preference Account will automatically update the table of bills you are tracking so that you only need to look in one place to see the status of all of the bills. The Preference Account also gives you the option of signing up for an email notification when a bill is scheduled for a hearing.
There are key times to contact legislators during the legislative process to tell them if you support or oppose a bill. The first is when a bill has been scheduled for hearing, at which point you can contact all of the members of the Committee hearing the bill. If a bill has passed in a committee, it is best to contact your specific Senator or Representative when the bill comes before the full Senate or House. Instructions on how to contact legislators and committees was in a previous column Writing to the Montana Legislature.
Next week we’ll discuss testifying at a legislative hearing.
The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16. For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website: lwvmissoula.org