Placeholders vs Bills

Ken Holmlund
Monday, January 4, 2021

There seems to be some confusion about the way draft requests are handled in the Legislature before session. I hope this will eliminate some of the confusion.

Before the general election, in November of an even year, carryover Senators and unopposed candidates for the House are allowed to request unlimited numbers of bill drafts. After the election successful candidates can then submit unlimited bill drafts until after the 15th of December when the number of bill drafts that can be requested drops to seven.

Each Representative and Senator is allowed up to five drafts that are will be worked on first. They are selected by the legislator. All the other drafts will be worked on as staffer time allows. The first five drafts are assigned to bill drafters based on their expertise as much as possible.

The confusion comes into play when you hear someone, either through lack of knowledge or an attempt to sway your thinking, say that we have 3,000 bills to hear and we need to provide a way to make the process faster. As of today there has been 3,031 draft request made by legislators and only legislators can request a draft.

The difference between a draft request and a bill is that the draft request is simply a placeholder that may or may not become a bill. It becomes a bill when it is written, with the input from the legislator, is read across the rostrum and assigned a bill number.

It’s important to understand that the number of placeholders is not excessive and only about 20 to 25% will become bills. That is very much in line with previous sessions and is nothing to worry about. We can do this, partly because a large number of bills are stopped in committee.

How do we get so many draft requests? Most legislators have a list of bills that will be introduced but it is impossible to know every issue that will come up during the session. Since Montana has a law that says anything in a bill must fall under the title of the bill and only one issue can be included in a bill, most legislators will submit numerous draft request to be sure they have them later if needed. I know of one legislator that has more than 150 requests but will probably only have eight or 10 bills. If we all did that many requests we would have many times the number we currently have.

In addition, legislators can carry department bills at the request of departments in state government. These do not count against a legislators request and are usually pre-introduced with the signature of the carrying legislator. I am personally carrying three bills in this category. A large number of bills we carry come at the request of constituents.

If there is some part of the legislative process you would like to know more about, please contact me at Ken.holmlund@ or text to 951-6764.

(Ken Holmlund is the House District 38 representatives.)