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Before most of Billings was at work Monday morning, a dozen people gathered at Montana State University Billings' downtown campus for the first pre-legislative forum.

This session became a planning meeting for the rest of the 7 a.m. Monday sessions, which are scheduled for Nov. 15 and every other Monday through Dec. 20 at 208 N. Broadway.

Thanks to the lawmakers and legislators-elect who turned out Monday, just days after election or re-election campaigns ended: Sens. Gary Branae and Lynda Moss, Reps. Margaret MacDonald, Robyn Driscoll and Ken Peterson, as well as Virginia Court and Mary McNally, who will become state representatives in January at the start of the 2011 Legislature.

We encourage other Yellowstone County legislators to attend upcoming Monday forums.

MSU Billings is hosting these forums to provide convenient opportunities for citizens to address local lawmakers on issues that may come before the 2011 Legislature.

Another opportunity for citizens to communicate directly will lawmakers will be offered after the Legislature convenes in January. Once again, plans are being made for noon Thursday audio-video conferences that will link lawmakers gathered in a room at the Capitol in Helena with community members gathered in a room at MSU Billings' downtown campus. Representatives of the city of Billings, Yellowstone County, Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare and MSU Billings arrange these sessions with help from legislators.

Ed Bartlett, who lobbies for the city of Billings, said the first noon forum is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 20. Subsequent forums would be held every other week so long at the Legislature is in session. In the 2009 Legislature, these forums drew excellent participation from legislators whose districts are in Yellowstone County or include part of Yellowstone County along with parts of one or more other counties.

In Billings, the forums are free and open to the public. Citizens may bring up any issue they want to comment on and ask lawmakers to comment from Helena. Past forums have produced wide-ranging, discussions that usually wrap up about 1 p.m. because lawmakers have other meetings or House and Senate sessions to attend.

After voting, keeping in touch with your lawmakers is an important part of the democratic process. Thanks to MSU Billings and the other community partners for offering opportunities before and during the Legislature to speak with a bipartisan group of local lawmakers.

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