Week 7: How the bill process works

Ken Holmlund Guest Columnist
Monday, February 22, 2021
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To most observers the bill process appears cumbersome and moves at a snails pace. That’s not too far from the truth for most bills. I would like to explain the process without getting too technical.

The first step is when a legislator requests a placeholder. This can be done by carryover senators or house candidates without a general election opponent. This usually begins around the first of September of even years. After the general election any elected senator or house member can then propose an unlimited number of placeholders by completing the required form. A lesser number is allowed after the session starts.

A placeholder has several steps to go through before it can become a bill. First is the drafting process-we don’t write our own bills. Once the draft is done and agreed to be the sponsor it moves to editing to check for spelling and language errors. Next the bill goes to the legal department to determine proper terminology and if the bill is legal under the state’s constitution. These last two steps have been where the bottleneck has been occurring this session.

When the placeholderreferred to by a LC number-passes the mentioned steps it is ready for the sponsor to pick up. Once the LC has been signed for by the sponsor they have two days to get cosponsors if they choose to do so. Some legislators get a lot of co-sponsor and some get just a few but with the system we have this year at least one co is needed in case the primary sponsor is unable to carry the bill due to a variety of reasons.

When the LC is dropped into the hopper-our term for turning it in to Chief Secretary-it’s given a bill number. The bill is read across the rostrumreferred to as first reading- and it is assigned to a committee. The committee holds a hearing on the billthis is when the public testimony is heard- and they determine if the bill is sent to the floor by a vote of the members-referred to as executive action.

If passed by the committee the bill is scheduled for a floor hearing and is presented by the sponsor. This is the second reading and during this time only the legislators can discuss the bill. After discussion a vote is taken and if the bill gets a majority of the votes-51 in the House and 26 in the Senate-it is scheduled for third reading, usually the next day.

Third reading is done by a reading of the title by the Chief Clerk and a vote up or down is taken. No discussion happens during third reading. Again, if the bill gets a majority vote it is passed to the other house for committee meeting and votes on the floor. If passed it goes to the Governor for signature and becomes law.

This is a quick story of the tale of a bill. If you would like to know more detail I can provide it but that would be another article.

(Ken Holmlund represents House District 38 in the Montana House of Representatives. He can be contacted at Ken.holmlund@mtleg.gov or 406-951-6764.)

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