If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering why you should care about what happens at the Montana Legislature… Maybe you’re disappointed in the 2020 election results and want to be more involved than just voting. Maybe you’re concerned about the future of the state’s political climate and Montanans who are at-risk due to potential policies. Maybe you’re at crossroads between your faith and politics but still want to make a difference in either direction, because God calls you to act justly and love mercy. Maybe you’ve been following the news all along but constantly feel burnout from pandemic stress, so you’re not sure where to start on being more involved.
Whatever the reason is brought you here, treat this webpage as a guide on “how to democracy”. The purpose of this guide takes into account the people who may be new to politics or at least find the entire process intimidating. We completely understand and it’s okay to feel that way. So, take the time to learn the ropes first before deciding on any action. In the reading, topics covered are Montana Legislature 101, How A Bill Becomes A Law, and How To Get Involved. Cheers, to democracy!
Montana Legislature 101
The Montana Senate has a total of 50 members that represent 50 Senate Districts in the state of Montana.
A state senator is elected to serve a four-year term. Half of the Senate members are elected every two years. Meaning, 25 senators were elected in the 2020 elections, and the remaining 25 members will run for election in 2022.
Currently, the Republicans hold the majority in the Senate with 31 seats and the Democrats hold 19 seats.
The Montana House of Representatives has a total of 100 members that represent 100 House Districts in the state of Montana.
A representative is elected to serve a two-year term, and all members are elected every two years.
Currently, the Republicans hold the majority in the House with 67 seats and the Democrats hold 33 seats.
The Legislators’ Job
Establish new laws and amend/repeal existing laws
Decide state budget on how much money to spend on government programs and services
Decide the tax rate on Montanans to fund those government programs and services
Balance the needs of constituents and make important decisions under heavy pressure
Understand a diverse range of subjects such as finance, agriculture, public health, and education
How A Bill Becomes A Law
How To Track A Bill
You can track the progress of a bill using a free online service called LAWS (Legislative Automated Workflow System).
You can find LAWS on the Montana Legislature website at leg.mt.gov/laws.htm. It’s a little clunky, but there are some instructional videos that can help you learn the way around.
How To Use LAWS
Complete text of legislative bills, Up-to-date status of bills, Committee hearing schedules, Agendas for committee hearings and floor sessions, House and Senate votes on bills
You can search the LAWS database using one or more of the following search criteria:
General subject matter, Keywords, Bill number, Bill sponsor, or Bill status
You can also create a preference list. This feature allows you to monitor any number of bills that are of particular interest to you by creating a free, password-protected online account. You can sign up for notification by e-mail of public hearings scheduled for the bills on your preference lists.
How To Get Involved
How To Contact Your Legislators
Contacting your legislators is how to build relationships over time and hold them accountable. It’s a powerful way for how a citizen can have a tangible impact on policy. You can find out who are your legislators here.
It’s essential to keep in contact with our legislators because if they don’t hear from us, then they don’t know your views and perspectives. It’s their job to represent us but it’s our job to hold them accountable. So, maybe you’re wondering how to contact a legislator. The good news is it’s actually easier and less intimidating than it seems. The first few times may be a little nerve-racking but eventually, you’ll get the hang of it and become a pro.
You can find your legislators’ email addresses and phone numbers here. You can also call 406-444-4800 and leave a message for your legislator.
Here Are Some Tips
Research. Before contacting them, doing a little bit of research can go a long way. This includes knowing what committee assignments they serve on, what issues they prioritize, voting record, and their contact information.
Plan ahead. Plan what you will say and make sure they know you’re their constituent.
Keep it short and to the point. Being a legislator is a demanding job with numerous tasks so their time is especially valuable.
Be specific. Mention the bill number you’re referring to and let them know why you either support or oppose the bill.
Make it personal. Telling a perspective on how a bill can directly affect your life and Montanans will more likely get their attention.
Be factual. Having statistics to make your argument can be handy but make sure the information is from credible sources and has been fact-checked.
Call to action. Last but not least, the end of your letter, call, or email should end with a call to action. Simply tell them to vote “No” or “Yes” on a specific bill you’re referring to in the message.
How To Submit An Online Comment
This is one of two forms you can use to submit an online comment to a specific legislator or committee.
How To Testify On Zoom
This form allows you to register to testify before a committee on Zoom, send your comments, and upload documents for the committee’s consideration. If you would like to testify, you must register by 12 p.m. the day prior to the hearing. It’s important to note that not everyone who registers to testify will necessarily have the opportunity, particularly on bills that draw considerable public interest.
If you register to testify, you’ll receive an email confirmation and a Zoom link. A remote committee coordinator will facilitate the remote testimony on, the day of the hearing. Phone testimony is an option if you do not have Zoom.
How To Testify In-Person
This process is similar to years past, with the exception that committee rooms are set up to accommodate social distancing. In general, mask use has been “highly recommended” at the Capitol by the Legislature’s COVID-19 panel, but its adoption is inconsistent.
Particularly in smaller committee rooms, space constraints can mean that the public is invited to watch committee proceedings on a screen in the hallway and may be allowed, one at a time, to enter the room and speak during the time reserved for public testimony.
Whether it’s your hundredth time or the first time, here’s a great short video that will help you to build confidence with tangible tips to succeed.
Other Ways To Get Involved
Sign up for action alerts and email updates from ACLU of Montana, Montana Human Rights Network, Forward Montana and other organizations.
Write a Letter to the Editor or an op-ed at your local newspaper.
Share on social media- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
Attend an event whether it’s online or in-person. Please wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines if you choose to attend an in-person event.