Attending and speaking at public hearings - what you need to know.

How to Read and Understand a Bill

P.O.  Box 4924, Missoula, Montana 59806


Updated January 18, 2023

Legislative Process - Contacting Legislators - Tracking Bills

Montana is blessed (compared to many other states) because our Legislature only meets every two years and for only 90 working days.  Because of that, things move quickly in the Montana Legislature so observers and participants will need to be informed about the process in order to participate in a timely fashion.  Here is that information.

LEGISLATIVE PROCESS - Every bill must be introduced in either the House or the Senate.  If the bill is first introduced in to the House, it's called a House Bill and has an HB number, such as HB100.  If the bill is first introduced in to the Senate, it's called a Senate Bill, and has an SB number, such as SB100.

Whichever chamber (House or Senate) a bill is introduced in, it will first be assigned to a committee (there are 21 committees in the House, and 23 in the Senate) for a public hearing and deliberation by the committee.  Anyone may testify in support of or in opposition to a bill at the public hearing before the committee.  These committee hearings are scheduled from one to ten days in advance, but usually bill supporters or opponents only have three to four days advance notice of a hearing.  It is VERY IMPORTANT for you to go to the trouble of attending and speaking at a public hearing for a bill you wish to support or oppose.

To know when a public hearing on a bill of interest is is necessary to visit the Legislature's Website, establish a Preference List on the Website, or call the legislative information number frequently to track where bills are in the process.

When the committee takes action on the bill, it can kill the bill (table), it can amend and pass the bill, or it can simply pass the bill as received.  If a bill is passed by the committee, it goes to Second Reading before the full body of the House or Senate.  On Second Reading, the merits of the bill are debated and argued by the members of the legislature who support or oppose the measure.  A bill can be amended by the full body on Second Reading.  After debate, a vote is taken.  If a majority of the members vote for the bill, it is passed on to Third Reading.  Third Reading will occur on a subsequent day, and is a vote only - no debate, no amendments.

Once a bill is passed by the body in which it originated (House or Senate), it is transmitted to the other body, where it goes through the same process all over again, including
another public hearing before the assigned committee.  If the second body to review the bill makes any amendments, it must go back to the first body to see if the first body will vote to accept the amendments made by the second body.  If the first body does not accept the amendments, the measure goes to a "conference committee," made up of members of both bodies, to attempt to amend the bill into a form acceptable to both bodies.  Then, both bodies will vote on whether or not to accept the compromise worked out by the conference committee.  Once both bodies have approved the same form of the bill, it is sent to the Governor for his signature (except resolutions and legislative referenda, which don't go to the Governor).

TRACKING BILLS - You can ask about a bill "status" by calling this number - 1-406-444-4800.  This number answers 7 A.M.  to 5 P.M.  weekdays and 8 to Noon on Saturdays.  Ask the person who answers what the "status" is of the bill you want to know about.  Be prepared with the bill number, such as "What is the status of HB90?" You may ask for the status of more than one bill.  The person on the phone will tell you of the last significant action on the bill and will report whatever is known about the next step, such as, "HB90 was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and has been assigned to Second Reading in the House.", or "SB58 has passed the Senate and is scheduled for a hearing before the House Fish and Game Committee on February 4th."

To track bills Online, go to
START PAGE.  This is a very effective way to follow bills.  From this location, you can also do a keyword search for bills of interest to you.

PREFERENCE LIST"  The legislative Website also has a very handy option for you to establish what is called a "preference list."  Here, you may set up your own special list of bills you wish to follow.  Every time you log on, this list will pop up and show what is happening with each bill you have placed on your preference list.  The preference list option also has a very handy feature where you can set it to send you an email when there is any significant action scheduled on a bill, such as a public hearing before a committee scheduled.  Using this preference list function is highly recommended.  To begin this, go to PREFERENCE.

CONTACTING LEGISLATORS - The most important thing is - KEEP IT SHORT (I recommend about two sentences - really).  Legislators simply don't have time to read long messages.  Always include your contact information - phone number, email address, etc. - so they can get back to you if they have time.  Usually they won't have time and won't reply.  Don't be offended.  They have a very heavy work load.

You may contact legislators several ways.  You may call and leave a message for them at 444-4800.  You may send them a letter at Capitol Station, Helena, Montana 59620.  Be advised that letters may take one to four days to get through the state mail system once they get to Helena.  You may send letters by FAX to legislators at 444-4825 for the House, and 444-4875 for the Senate.  The inside address of a letter or FAX should be "Representative Joe Blow", and the greeting should be "Dear Representative Blow".  See below for sending email and Online electronic messages.

Phone messages (444-4800) should be VERY brief.  Give your name, your phone number, the name of the legislator whom the message is for, and a short message such as "Please support HB90.", or "Please help get HB90 out of House Judiciary Committee.", or "Please call me." Legislators and the message takers are incredibly swamped with work.  Don't waste their time attempting long messages.  DO SEND MESSAGES - but be brief.

Email to legislators.  The Legislature's Website does have email addresses for some legislators.  CAUTION.  Some legislators are good about checking their email regularly, but many are not.  Some may not even look at their email until they go home for the mid-session break, far too late to do any good.  A roster of legislators is available at: ROSTER.  Some legislators have email addresses which can be found from the roster.  Many legislators have personal email addresses, and some of them actually check their personal email occasionally.  Because many don't check email regularly, using their personal email addresses is not a very certain way to get a message to them.  However, if you want to try a legislator's personal email address, many are listed under the legislator's name on the legislative ROSTER.

Online electronic messages - good option.  The Legislature's Website has a feature for sending Online electronic messages to legislators.  It is HERE.  This actually works pretty well.  These messages are printed out on paper by the Legislative Message Center and are delivered to the legislators desk by pages.  If you wish to send the same message to all members of a committee, simply check the circle for committees and then select the committee you want from the drop-down menu.  This message should be short, such as "Please support HB 197."

Letters and fax letters should be less than one full page.  Be sure the letter contains return contact information, including your phone number and address, as well as the name of the legislator.  If you can state your message in two or three short sentences, it is much more likely to be read than if you use four long paragraphs.  With letters and faxes, use generous margins, and leave lots of white space in the letter.  If your penmanship is not better than average, type the letter.

Be polite.  In phone calls and letters,
ALWAYS BE POLITE.  If you feel strongly about an issue, it is acceptable to say "I feel very strongly about this!"  But regardless of how strongly you feel, DON'T EVER THREATEN a legislator, such as "Vote the way we want or we'll get even at the polls next election."  NEVER use bad language or call legislators derogatory names!  Treat legislators the way you would like to be treated!

GETTING COPIES OF BILLS - Anyone may obtain copies of any bills introduced.  They are available Online via:  START PAGE  As bills get amended, the legislative Website shows revised copy to reflect the amended changes.  Paper bill copies can be ordered through the toll-free information number listed above, or you can call the Legislature's Data Distribution office direct at 444-3926.  They will include an invoice with the bills mailed, for the cost of copying and postage.  Very few bills cost as much as $1.00.  If they are short bills, you can often get several bills and postage for less than $2.00.  The best access to bills is Online via the bill tracking site at:  START PAGE

READING A BILL – It's not that hard to understand what a bill does IF you know about three fundamentals. If a bill contains a “NEW SECTION”, that is new language proposed to be added to state law, the Montana Codes Annotated, abbreviated as M.C.A. If a bill section begins with a number, such as 45-8-328, that means this section of the bill is AMENDING EXISTING state law. In that amending section. Language that uses a strikethrough is language proposed to be DELETED from existing state law, and language that is underlined is proposed to be ADDED to existing state law.

TIMES FOR CONTACTING LEGISLATORS - The best time to send a phone message, electronic message, letter, or fax to a legislator is when some action is pending.  Any time you check bill status and a committee has had a hearing on a measure but has not acted on the bill, or when a hearing is scheduled, is a very good time to send messages asking committee members to support the bill.  Any time a measure is up for Second Reading or Third Reading is a good time to send messages and letters urging support.

WHO TO CONTACT - You can find out the names of your Representative and Senator from your County Election Office.  Call the county courthouse, ask for the election office, tell them where you live, and ask who your Representative and Senator are (you will have one of each).  If you live in one of Montana's larger communities, such as Great Falls, or any community that has more than one legislative seat, there is nothing wrong with sending messages to any or all legislators who come from your community.  There is more information, including lists of committee members for House and Senate, available from:  HOUSE - SENATE.

FREE LEGISLATIVE DIRECTORIES - CenturyLink publishes a great legislative directory that contains the names and addresses of all legislators, lists of all the committees and which legislators serve on which committees, and MUCH MORE valuable information.  The rural electric co-ops also publish a legislative directory.  Every citizen should have a copy of these great directories.  Call the legislative information phone at 444-4800 and ask them to send you one or both.  They are FREE!

FURTHER INFORMATION - Any MSSA member with questions about how to get involved in the legislative process may call MSSA President Gary Marbut at 406dash549dash1252 or may send email to mssa "AT"  MSSA has a Web site: or find us on Facebook.



    If you wish to receive email alerts as legislative circumstances evolve, send us an email and ask to be included on the legislative information email list.