Montana Legislature Looking at Annual Sessions

The 2019 Legislature passed a bill to study the idea of meeting every year for 45 days

By Justin Franz

HELENA — Montana lawmakers plan to meet in January as part of a study on whether the Legislature should meet every year.

Legislators will attend already scheduled interim committee meetings along with training sessions from Jan. 13-17 in Helena, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported Friday.

The 2019 Legislature passed a bill to study the idea of meeting every year for 45 days, focusing on the budget one year and policy the next. It currently meets for 90 days every other year.

Republican Sen. Fred Thomas of Stevensville, who is finishing up his final term, has long supported annual sessions.

“Part of the idea here is to say instead of a legislator going to Helena for four months and then the next 20 months they’re kind of not legislators, we want to look at examining a process where we stay more engaged,” Thomas said.

Annual sessions would also help break down the division between lawmakers who work on the budget and those who work on policy and keep them more engaged between sessions. It would also spread out the work for legislative staffers, who draft bill proposals. Staffers drafted just over 1,300 pieces of legislation that were introduced during the 2019 session and another 116 that were not.

“We have this mad scramble to get all these bills drafted between November and January and it’s brutal on our staff and citizens of our state,” Thomas said.

An early estimate of the cost to bring between 100 and 150 legislators to the Capitol for a week was nearly $34,000. The interim committees already scheduled to meet that week will pay the costs of their members’ attendance.

The Legislative week also plans training sessions on revenue and budgeting, education, infrastructure, pensions, natural resources and health and human services.

Montana and North Dakota are the only two states with a part-time Legislature that meets every other year.

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