From "A Student's Guide to the Montana Legislature."
The U.S. and state Constitutions give every citizen the right to speak on public issues and to be heard by officials at every level of government. At the Montana Legislature, that means you have the right to share with legislators your thoughts and opinions about any public issue they are considering no matter what your age.
There are many ways you can exercise your rights and get involved in the legislative process:
Contact Your Legislator
Even if you arent yet old enough to vote, your legislator wants to hear from you!
A well-written letter is one of the best ways to let your legislator know your thoughts and opinions about a particular issue. Here are some tips for getting your message across effectively:
Be brief. Legislators have many demands on their time. They appreciate letters that are short and to the point.
Put the message in your own words. Form letters and petitions dont have the same impact as personal, informed opinions.
Address your letter to a specific legislator or legislators preferably the ones who represents your legislative district. Depending on your message, you may want to write to the sponsor of a bill, certain members of a committee, or your own legislators. Dont address your letter to the entire Legislature.
Identify bills by their number, title, and sponsor.
Explain your position on the bill and ask for the legislators support or opposition.
Give any sources of information that you use to make your point.
Include your name, address, and a little about who you are (for example, where you work or what school you attend).
Address letters to:
Senator XXXX Montana Senate State Capitol PO Box 200500 Helena, MT 59620-0500
Rep. XXXX Montana House of Representatives State Capitol PO Box 200400 Helena, MT 59620-0400
During legislative sessions, you may call the Session Information Desk at (406) 444-4800 and leave a message for as many as five legislators per call. Your message will be delivered to those legislators.
You may also contact your legislators by e-mail. Some legislators choose to publish their e-mail addresses on this website. Look under House and Senate for lists of members and click on the legislators name.
During sessions, you may also use a form on the legislative website to send electronic messages.
Testify at a Hearing
One of the most important opportunities to become involved in the debate over a bill is when its the subject of a hearing before a legislative committee. You can communicate personally with legislators at any time about any bill, but the committee hearing is the occasion when anyone may publicly approve, oppose, or suggest changes to a bill.
Dont let stage fright stop you from taking advantage of this important right! Legislators were elected to represent the people of Montana. They are eager to hear your thoughts and perspective.
You may testify on any bill that concerns you. Committee hearings allow you to speak your mind before the committee takes any action and before the bill is brought to the attention of the House and Senate for debate and a final vote. You may testify in person or submit written testimony.
The time and place of every committee hearing is posted several days in advance on the legislative website and on bulletin boards reserved for that purpose in the legislative halls. Some major Montana newspapers print the hearing schedules each day of the session.
You may enter a legislative hearing room at any time, even if the door is closed or a hearing is in progress. Be courteous and respectful. Enter quietly if a meeting is in progress. Be sure to turn off your cell phone before entering. Food and drink (other than water) are not permitted in hearing rooms. More information about testifying at committee hearings is available in Having Your Say, a brochure published by the Legislative Information Office. To get a copy, send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (406) 444-2957.
Visit the Capitol
The Capitol was originally completed in 1902. In 1999-2000, it was renovated to return it to its original appearance after decades of remodeling. Its an impressive sight!
The Montana Historical Society offers free guided tours of the Capitol. These tours focus primarily on the art, architecture, and history of the building.
To arrange a tour, contact the Education Office of the Historical Society at (406) 444-4789. You must make reservations for group tours at least 2 weeks in advance.
Individuals and small, chaperoned school groups may tour the Capitol on their own during regular business hours.
The Montana Legislature hires dozens of high school juniors and seniors to work as pages during each regular legislative session. Pages help legislators and the House and Senate staff by running errands, delivering messages, distributing bills, setting up and cleaning committee rooms, and other assorted office duties.
Pages generally serve for a week and are paid minimum wage. Meals and housing are not provided.
To become a page, you must be recommended by a state senator or representative.
To apply, contact the Legislative Services Division, Room 110, State Capitol, Helena, MT 59620. Or call (406) 444-3064. Applications are usually available in November of even-numbered years.
Become a Legislative Intern
The Montana Legislative Intern Program is designed to educate college students about state government and the legislative process by allowing them to observe and work with the Legislature during its regular sessions.
Each unit of the Montana University System, tribal colleges, private colleges, and 2-year public colleges may sponsor at least one intern. Interns are selected by the president or chief administrative officer of the institution they attend.
To serve as an intern, a student must:
Have studied at least one semester of government or its equivalent at an institution of higher learning;
Be at least a junior at a 4-year school or a sophomore at a 2-year school; and
Demonstrate scholastic achievement, leadership, and community involvement.
Interns are assigned to work with individual legislators. Their duties may include doing research, drafting speeches, answering constituent mail, making phone calls and appointments, and preparing schedules and agendas.
Interns are not paid, but they may be able to get academic credit for their legislative work.
To apply, contact the office of your school president or chief administrative officer. Or call the Legislative Information Office at (406) 444-2957.
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Do you believe its important for citizens to get involved in the activities of the state Legislature? Why or why not?
Some people believe students are turned off by government. Do you? Why or why not?
What would encourage students to be more actively involved?