It’s fairly common knowledge that Montana’s legislative branch of government is a citizen Legislature that only meets in session for 90 business days every two years. While true, those facts often lead to misconceptions about the real nature of legislators’ work.
In reality, the Legislature works year-round. Being an effective legislator is much closer to full-time public service than a part-time job. Constituents regularly contact their elected representatives looking for assistance, asking about various laws, and pitching their ideas for future legislation. Legislators are asked to attend policy conferences, speak at local events, and answer reporters’ questions about the news of the day.
One of the most important and valuable tasks a legislator engages in between formal sessions is serving on one or more interim committees. Interim committees are made up of members of both the Senate and the House and have jurisdiction over every conceivable policy issue. They spend more than a year studying their respective topics, researching and drafting future legislation, providing oversight and accountability of executive branch agencies, and digging deep into the state’s budget.
Many of the current Legislature’s interim committees are beginning their work in earnest this month. No fewer than 20 policy, budget, and special committees are meeting in September. They’ll be receiving reports from executive agencies on how laws and programs are being implemented, how taxpayer money is being spent, and will be outlining their topics of study for the next year.
The work of interim committees often sets the stage for the major agenda items of the following legislative session. That means one of the best times for Montanans to get engaged in the legislative process is right now. Many regular Montanans, who don’t closely follow politics and policy year-round, make the mistake of waiting too long to make their voices heard on the topics that matter to them.
Every legislative session, dozens of good ideas fall victim to deadlines and limited time. Having only 90 days to complete two years’ worth of lawmaking means everything happens fast during the session. There’s often not time to research and vet an idea, draft a bill, and educate legislators if the policy idea comes after the session has already started.
The big takeaway for Montana citizens is this: if you have an idea you’d like to see the Legislature work on in the 2025 legislative session, don’t wait to make your voice heard. Right now is the time to get engaged, contact your representative or senator, and attend interim committee meetings. The Legislature is the most transparent and most accessible branch of Montana’s government. The earlier we get feedback and ideas from our constituents, the more effective we’ll be for you next session.
Sen. Jason Ellsworth
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