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HELENA - Testifying before legislative committees isn't just for professional lobbyists. Anyone can have a say at the Legislature.

Montana's Legislature encourages citizen participation. Legislators often look forward to hearing how a bill affects individuals in Montana.

For pointers, check the Legislature's Web site at: http://leg.mt.gov/css/About%20the%20Legislature/Lawmaking%20Process/testify.asp.

Here are some suggestions from the Legislative Services Division:

The federal and U.S. constitutions give all citizens with the right to speak out on public issues and be heard by public officials.

In Montana, all legislative committee meetings are open to the public. Anyone may testify on the pros and cons of a particular bill up for hearing or suggest amendments.

You must wait your turn as the committee chairman first asks for proponents of a bill to testify,then opponents and then for informational witnesses.

Depending on the size of the crowd, the chairman may limit the length of everyone's testimony to five minutes apiece or give the supporters and opponents a total of 30 or 45 minutes apiece, leaving it up to them to divide it. If you're near the front of the proponents' or opponents' line, the better chance to will have to testify. If you're at the back of the line, you may not get to offer testifmony.

If you're going to testify, you might watch another committee or another bill being heard first to get the hang of it and learn legislative decorum. For example, someone testifying must begin by saying, "Mr. Chairman, members of the committee" and then proceed with the testimony.

Legislators like copies of testimony if it's available, but that isn't necessary.

They welcome concise, to-the-point testimony that doesn't repeat what others have said.

News reporters often attend hearings, so your comments might appear in newspapers or on radio or television.

Committees rarely go into executive session to take action on a bill right after it's heard. You're allowed to observe executive sessions, although the discussion is limited to legislators.

Copies of bills, as well as hearing schedules, are available on the Internet at: www.leg.mt.gov/laws.htm. Bills also may be purchased for a small fee at the Bill Distribution Room in Room 74 in the basement of the Capitol. Hearing schedules and other information are available for free at the information desk on the ground floor of the Capitol.

If you are being paid to support or oppose bills, you must register with the state's political practices commissioner.

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