Before Montana lawmakers went home in April, they decided that they should do lots of studies over the next 18 months.
Interim studies are popular, judging by the overwhelming votes in favor of the study resolutions passed earlier this year. Lawmakers were polled to gauge the priority placed on nearly 20 study resolutions. Among the 107 lawmakers who expressed opinions, this is how the studies ranked and the name of the committee assigned to each:
1. State employee pay plans. (Legislative Finance Council)
2. Management of federal lands. (Environmental Quality Council)
3. Structure and duties of the Office of the Commissioner of Political Practices. (State Administration and Veterans Affairs Interim Committee)
4. Impacts of the state’s renewable portfolio standard that requires a certain percentage of commercial electricity to come from renewable sources. (Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee)
5. State-operated institutions that serve people with mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities or chemical dependencies. (Children and Families Interim Committee)
6. Workers’ compensation. (Economic Affairs Interim Committee)
7. Prescription drug abuse. (Children and Families Interim Committee)
8. Tax appeal process. (Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee).
9. Family law procedures and alternative dispute resolution. (Law and Justice Interim Committee)
10. Board of Pardons and Parole. (Law and Justice Interim Committee)
11. State and local government electronic records management. (Education and Local Government Interim Committee)
12. Water ditch and canal easement restatement process options. (Water Policy Committee)
13. Commerce corridors along Montana highways. (Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee)
14. Combining school and primary elections. (State Administration and Veterans Affairs Interim Committee)
15. Military training applicability to civilian jobs. (Economic Affairs Interim Committee)
16. Marketing and maintenance of state-owned property at Virginia City, Nevada City and Reeder’s Alley in Helena. (Environmental Quality Council)
Assigned to committees
Those studies all have been assigned to interim committees. In addition, the Legislative Council directed staff to study state and federal veterans benefits and report to appropriate interim committees. The committees may hold hearings, invite testimony, and otherwise gather information for these studies, which will be finalized in September 2014. Often, interim studies generate proposals for legislation. Bills developed in interim committees usually involve more time, study and public debate before they are drafted than other bills. However, interim committee bills face the same gauntlet of assignments, hearings and votes that other bills do, and don’t necessarily become law.
The interim committees are starting to meet this month. Even those of us far from Helena, can track what these panels are doing on the Legislature’s website, (leg.mt.gov, then click on committees) which provides a calendar of meetings, agendas, reports and other documents.
The Legislature meets only 90 days every two years, but some lawmakers meet in Helena nearly every week of the biennium. Concerned citizens can attend those meetings, or listen to webcasts. If you are interested in any of the interim study topics, tune in to the interim committees.