Ever wonder about the various pieces of legislation that work their way through the Montana legislative process every two years? Many of them originate when an individual sees a wrong that needs to be made right, current law that needs to be modified or repealed, or a constituent asks a legislator for help with an issue.
During each legislative session, about 2,500 bill drafts will be requested. About half of those will enter the process and go through various stages of hearings and votes before finally going to the governor for his signature or veto.
Once a bill is introduced, the first step is a long process of review, debate and deliberation. During that time, the Billings Chamber/CVB will give it a quick review and make a determination to decide if it is something that may have a positive or negative effect on Billings Chamber/CVB members in particular and the Billings community in general. If it does present an opportunity or threat, the entire bill is reviewed by staff and the membership is notified through a weekly legislative Capitol iNSiGHT bill summary or the weekly Capitol iNSiGHT e-news.
The legislative process has a variety of steps for review by the legislators and for the public to provide input. For example, if a bill is introduced in the Montana House, a hearing date will be set before one of the various committees that were appointed at the beginning of the session. At what is known as second reading, the sponsor, proponents and opponents have the opportunity to address the committee members to solicit their support or opposition. If a majority of the committee members approve, it will then move on to what is called third reading and the committee will vote on it again.
There is usually a week or more between the two votes which gives more opportunity to contact the committee members. Once a bill has passed third reading, it then goes to the floor of the House and all 100 members have the opportunity to debate the merits and faults of the bill. At the end of the debate, a vote is taken and every House member's vote is tallied. If it passes, all of the House members will have a final opportunity to vote again a few days later. If it makes it through the process, the bill is then transferred over to the Senate and the entire process starts all over again.
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The Billings Chamber/CVB staff, members and lobbyist write, e-mail or testify in person on bills of concern to us or which we support, throughout the life of the bill. Of the 1,200 bills that are introduced, only 20 percent or so make it all the way through the legislative process.
There is one final step, and that is the governor's signature or veto. If the governor vetoes a bill, it takes a minimum of a two thirds majority in both the House and the Senate to override that veto.
This is the simple description of the bill process that we follow daily during the session. It is rather like the story of the delivery van driving up the Beartooth Highway and stopping every 100 yards or so. The driver gets out and beats on the side of the van for a few minutes with a baseball bat. This goes on all the way up the highway and a tourist who was following the truck and observed what was going on, had to stop when the van driver did and ask why. The driver of the van said "I have twenty tons of live chickens in a ten ton truck, so I have to keep half of them in the air at all times!" Sounds like trying to keep up with the legislative process!
We encourage our Chamber/CVB members and the business community to be aware of potential legislation that may impact their respective businesses. Let us know and we will track the legislation for you, keep you up to date on the progress, and make suggestions on how you might be able to help. Every two years we set aside 90 working days for this process. A legislator cannot follow all of the bills, let alone know what they are about, so it is important that we share our views with them. The consequences of inaction could be painful!
Bruce MacIntyre is director of government affairs for the Billings Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau.