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Monday, the 66th session of the Montana Legislature began with 150 women and men taking an oath to uphold our state constitution.

For 90 days, these Montanans call Helena their home-away-from-home as they consider how to improve our state by enacting new laws and changing existing ones.

For some, the 90 days will seem like an eternity. In reality, it’s not a lot of time to debate and determine how to improve the life, health and safety of all Montanans.

Of the more than 3,000 legislative bill draft requests now in the pipeline, many will never become bills. Even fewer will get to the governor’s desk, be signed and become law.

Those legislative bill draft requests are vast and varied. The ideas include everything from changing how our university system is funded to revising election laws. Early in the legislative session, the details of most of the bill draft requests remain vague. Often, they are placeholders for future legislation, with only their titles revealed in an online search of the Legislative Automated Workflow System (LAWS). But judging by just a few words, many of those requests involve public health issues.

RiverStone Health, Yellowstone County’s public health agency, actively monitors and participates in the legislative process, guided by the Board of Health’s legislative public policy agenda. Critical areas include promoting health and preventing disease, injury and violence prevention and the availability of health care.

Health primarily happens outside the doctor’s office, shaped by our families, schools, workplaces and physical environment. Since many illnesses are preventable, promoting sound health policies includes issues like physical activity, nutrition and immunizations. We continually advocate for policies that promote the healthy choice as the easy choice.

Since tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, we champion policies that discourage tobacco use, particularly among young people. Suicide rates in Montana are consistently among the highest in the nation. Several legislative bill draft requests seek to strengthen resiliency, which research indicates will lower suicide rates.

Access to high quality health care is vitally important to promoting health, preventing disease and reducing injury and violence. Even the healthiest among us need health care, since a catastrophic accident or a cancer diagnosis can strike without warning. Montanans also need access to behavioral health care and mental health care. In the 2017 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 31 percent of Montana high school students reported symptoms of depression that were severe enough to interfere with their daily activities and lasted almost every day for two weeks or more.

Montanans only have 90 days every other year to improve life, health and safety through legislative public policy making. If there is an issue important to you, get involved in the legislative process by following a bill, calling your state legislative representative or senator, and making your voice heard. On behalf of Yellowstone County residents, RiverStone Health will be doing just that, so please join us.

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Barbara Schneeman is the Vice President of communication & public affairs for RiverStone Health. She can be reached at Barbara.sch@riverstonehealth.org or 406.247.3200.

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