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Covering the Legislature: A Reporter's Guide

2017 Media Registration for Floor Access Badge Form

State of the State Press Advisory

Media Access l Accreditation l Parking l Work Space l Decorum l Technology l Dress l Emergencies l Legislator Contacts l Interims l Resources

Media Access

Montana ranks among the top handful of states in the nation for the openness of its government. In fact, the rights of Montanans to participate in and know about the activities of their government were guaranteed in the 1972 Montana Constitution:

Right of Participation (Article II, Section 8): The public has the right to expect governmental agencies to afford such reasonable opportunity for citizen participation in the operation of agencies prior to the final decision as may be provided by law.

Right to Know (Article II, Section 9): No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.

Members of the 1972 Constitutional Convention also specifically extended the right of participation to legislative meetings:

Article V, Section 10 (3): The sessions of the legislature and of the committee of the whole, all committee meetings, and all hearings shall be open to the public.

Montana legislators have implemented these constitutional provisions through a series of statutes incorporated over the years into the Montana Code Annotated (MCA). These include:

In 1999, in response to a lawsuit by Montana media, the Legislature opened its political caucuses to the public.

In addition, the Joint Rules of the Montana Legislature (10-50) state that: "Subject to the presiding officer’s discretion on issues of decorum and order, an accredited press representative may not be prohibited from photographing, televising, or recording a legislative meeting or hearing."

So, as a representative of the public, you have access to public documents and proceedings as afforded by these constitutional, statutory, and administrative protections. (Back to top)

Accreditation

House and Senate rules limit who is permitted on the chamber floors during legislative proceedings. But both chambers specifically extend floor privileges to “accredited” members of the news media (Senate Rule 20-60, House Rule 20-40).

In order to gain accreditation to the Montana Legislature and request floor privileges, you will need to register with the Legislative Communications Office. You will need to fill out a simple, one-page form available on this website or from the office, along with a letter of introduction on official letterhead from your sponsoring news outlet. You must submit the completed form in person to K'Lynn Sloan Harris, Audio Video Coordinator, for a signature of approval.

Once the form is approved, you must take it to the the General Services Division (GSD) of the state Department of Administration to get a photo identification card, which costs $10. GSD is located in the Old Livestock Building, 1310 East Lockey, behind the Capitol.

You must wear your ID badge in the Capitol at all times during legislative sessions. You will need to renew your ID badge before each session. (Back to top)

Parking

Parking is notoriously difficult to find near the Capitol during legislative sessions. Certain parking areas are posted for use only by legislators, and many of the surrounding neighborhood streets are posted for parking only by residents.

Like state employees and the general public, you may park wherever you can find a legal spot.

The City of Helena Parking Commission rules are enforced at all times on and around the Capitol complex. Members of the Capitol security staff monitor for parking violations on the Capitol complex and issue tickets when necessary. Please observe signs indicating parking regulations for time-limited, reserved, and handicap spots, as well as fire lanes, no-parking zones, and service and loading zones.

Two parking spots specifically for members of the media have been designated on the south side of the Capitol. These are available first-come, first-served. If you want to use these spots, you must notify the General Services Division and ask for a media parking permit. This must be visibly displayed in your vehicle. The permit is only good for the two identified spots. If they are unavailable, you must park elsewhere.

If your news agency is planning a large telecast that will involve satellite trucks, please notify the General Services Division in advance by calling 406-444-3060. (Back to top)

Work Space

During legislative sessions, the Capitol is very crowded and work space is limited. The General Services Division provides shared work space in Rooms 52A and 52B for TV and print media. If you have questions, contact General Services at 406-444-3060. (Back to top)

Decorum

On the Floor
The Joint Rules of the Montana Legislature state that: “Subject to the presiding officer’s discretion on issues of decorum and order, an accredited press representative may not be prohibited from photographing, televising, or recording a legislative meeting or hearing.”

The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, as the chief presiding officers of their respective chambers, are responsible for maintaining order and decorum on the House and Senate floors. They enforce this responsibility through their Sergeants at Arms.

The sergeants ensure that reporters trying to access the House and Senate floors are wearing proper identification. If you have lost or forgotten your ID, the sergeant can decide whether to admit you. Remember, you are expected to wear your ID badge whenever you’re in the Capitol.

In each chamber, areas are set aside for use by working representatives of the media.

In the Senate chamber, there are two areas with audio feeds for the media. In the front of the upper gallery (the southwest front corner), there is an area reserved for reporters. It includes a small table, a bench for seating, and audio feeds for equipment. On the south side of the Senate floor by the cloakroom, there are additional audio feeds for TV media that allow same-level camera angles.

If you use a tripod on the floor, please be considerate of legislators who are seated along this side. Do not block the aisle or infringe upon their desk space in any way. You may also set up camera tripods in the gallery areas at the handicap rails (if they are not in use) or at the area of the gallery that is reserved for media.

In the House chamber, you may set up tripods on the east side of the chamber along the windows by the fire tower exit. Please do not block the fire tower stair exit with tripods or other equipment, chairs, or bags. This could hinder evacuation in the event of a fire or other emergency.

If you know that a particular special event during session will be of interest to you, please notify the Sergeants at Arms in advance. If necessary, we may be able to provide additional splitters for your use. If you are uncertain where you may or may not go or what you can or cannot do, please speak to the Sergeants at Arms. They can advise you.

All media feed jacks are available on a first-come first-served basis; they may not be reserved. You may not set up tripods or shoot from other areas of the chamber floors without permission from the Sergeants at Arms.

Here are some other rules you might want to be aware of:

  • Only representatives may sit in their designated seats while the House is in session (House Rule 20-40).
  • You may not leave material on legislators’ desks in the chambers unless it has been approved by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House (Senate Rule 20-70, House Rule 20-80). Please provide a copy of the item you wish to distribute to the Sergeants at Arms and fill in a “request to distribute” form (available from the sergeants’ offices). It is helpful if you do this at least a day in advance.

Although not specifically addressed in rules, it is considered a breach of decorum to:

  • Approach and address a legislator at his or her chamber desk during floor action.
  • Move about the center aisle of either chamber during floor action.
  • Bring food or drink (other than water) onto the chamber floors.

Floor sessions generally begin promptly at the scheduled time. If you intend to shoot video on the chamber floor, please help to minimize disruptions to the proceedings by arriving early to set up your equipment.

While you are on the House or Senate floor, make sure your cell phone is turned off or set to vibrate.

A final note: Both the House and Senate begin their floor business with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. If you aren’t comfortable participating in these, you may want to consider waiting to enter the chambers until they are concluded. Some legislators consider it improper for journalists not to participate.

If you have any questions about appropriate behavior on the floor of the House or Senate, please feel free to contact the Sergeants at Arms. (Back to top)

In Committee Rooms

Committee meeting rooms can be very crowded, especially during public hearings on controversial or popular legislation. The presiding officer of each committee is responsible for maintaining order during hearings. This includes designating areas of the hearing room where you can operate television, radio, or any other form of telecommunication equipment. (S30-80, H30-60).

Hearing schedules are available online and at the Session Information Desk located in the central lobby on the first floor of the Capitol. If you plan to use video or audio equipment to cover a committee hearing, please arrive early whenever possible so you can set up your equipment without disrupting proceedings. Please do your best, too, not to disrupt proceedings if you must dismantle your equipment before the hearing ends.

You may enter or leave a committee hearing room at any point during a hearing, but please make every effort to do so quietly and without disrupting proceedings. Setting up your equipment or choosing a seat near a door can help to facilitate this. Please avoid placing microphones or other recording devices on a podium while a speaker is addressing a committee.

You can get the names of witnesses testifying before a committee from the signup sheet near the entrance to the committee room.

Food and drink (other than water) are prohibited in committee meeting rooms except by committee members.

While you are in committee rooms, make sure you turn off your cell phone or set it to vibrate. (Back to top)

Technology

Electrical outlets and media audio feeds are available in all hearings rooms and in both chambers for use by journalists. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you need help finding or using them, contact the Sergeant at Arms or K’Lynn Sloan Harris, Legislative Audio Video Coordinator at 444-3267 or ksharris@mt.gov.

The Capitol is equipped with wireless Internet access points, which can be helpful when you need to file stories from the Capitol. During sessions, you can access the public Internet with computers equipped with wireless network capability between the hours of 5 a.m. and 2 a.m. every day of the week. If you need assistance with Capitol wireless access, call the Customer Service Center at the Information Technology Services Division of the Department of Administration at 406-444-2000 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5p.m., Mondays through Fridays.

Several computers are located throughout the Capitol for public access to the Legislative Automated Workflow System, or LAWS. This free, interactive, online service provides a way to find:

  • Complete text of legislative bills
  • Up-to-date status of bills
  • Committee hearing schedules
  • Agendas for committee hearings and floor sessions
  • House and Senate votes on bills

To access LAWS, visit www.leg.mt.gov/laws.htm. It is not possible to access the Internet or print from the LAWS kiosks located throughout the building. (Back to top)

Dress

In accordance with legislative rules, the responsibility for order and decorum within the chambers lies with the presiding officers of the House and Senate. Individuals conducting business on the Chamber floors should dress in professional attire.

Torn, dirty, or overly revealing clothing is highly discouraged. Blue jeans are considered unacceptable attire on the chamber floors. (Back to top)

Emergencies

The “Capitol Emergency Action Plan” is the policy document that agencies within the Capitol follow to provide for the safety of all employees and visitors, including media representatives, during any incident, emergency, or disaster. Copies of the plan are available upon request from the Legislative Branch Emergency Coordinator, Lenore Adams, 406-444-4456.

In the event of an incident, designated and trained staff wearing bright orange vests will help to evacuate the building. All visitors should exit the building and assemble outside the Capitol as directed.

The identified assembly point is on the northeast corner of the Capitol lawn across from the Montana Historical Society. However, on rare occasions, if that corner is deemed unsafe, you may be directed elsewhere by emergency action team members, local emergency responders, or staff of the General Services Division.

While the journalistic impulse to cover an emergency is understandable, please be sure to check in first with the Legislative Branch Emergency Coordinator Lenore Adams or someone in an orange vest in the assembly area to let us know you are not still in the building.

Once you have checked in, you may be able to coordinate with the GSD public information officer, who is responsible, in conjunction with local and state agencies, for managing information requests specific to the Capitol complex.

No weapons, alcohol, or smoking are allowed in the Capitol or any other state building. (Back to top)

Legislator Contacts

Floor sessions are one time when you can easily find legislators during their busy days, because they are expected to attend all of them. If you wish to interview a legislator, you may be able to arrange to do so before, after, or during a break in the floor session. A Sergeant at Arms may take a request to a legislator during the floor session.

You can also find legislators in their offices and in Capitol hallways during breaks and between meetings. Just remember that breaks are also intended to allow legislators time to use restrooms; get food or drink; meet with staff, colleagues, constituents, and lobbyists; or fulfill other duties and responsibilities, so lawmakers may be short on time.

Mail. Although legislators have individual post office boxes on the first floor of the Capitol, these are for use by U.S. Postal Service staff only. You may not ask postal workers to put messages or other materials into legislator post office boxes. Legislator home and e-mail addresses are available on the legislative website at www.leg.mt.gov. Click on Session, Current, and then Members. Contact information is also available in published legislative guides that are available during each session.

E-mail. Although most legislators have e-mail addresses that you may use to contact them, some do not. Keep in mind that lawmakers get large volumes of e-mail and have no staff to manage it. Response times may vary.

Legislative Information Desk. During legislative sessions, the Legislative Services Division staffs an information desk in the central lobby of the first floor of the Capitol. These staff members are primarily responsible for taking messages from the public via phone and e-mail and delivering them to legislators. You may leave messages for legislators with them.

Pages and Sergeants at Arms. You may ask legislative pages or the Sergeants at Arms to deliver messages to legislators. (Back to top)

Interims

The Montana Legislature meets in regular session for only about 4 months every 2 years. But legislators conduct a great deal of newsworthy public business during the interims between sessions. This work often results in bills that are introduced during the next regular session.

After each regular session, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Committee on Committees appoint legislators to about a dozen bipartisan interim committees to conduct in-depth studies of policy issues of particular interest. During session, legislators pass bills to authorize some of these interim studies and resolutions to request others. Some interim committees, as part of their duties to monitor state agencies, elect to study policy issues not formally assigned to them by bill or resolution.

All interim committee meetings are open to the public and include opportunities for public comment. Meeting schedules and agendas are e-mailed regularly to media and posted each week on the home page of the legislative website at www.leg.mt.gov. Most meetings are held in the Capitol hearing rooms. Most are also audio-streamed over the legislative website, providing an opportunity to listen to the entire proceedings live. (Back to top)

Resources

Staff

Legislative Communications Office: Located in Room 173 on the first floor of the Capitol. You can contact the Legislative Communications Office at 406-444-3064 or leginfo@mt.gov with any questions concerning the Montana Legislature. This office can help direct you to the best person to answer your questions.

Legislative Information Desk: The information desk operates during sessions only as part of the Communications Office.  This desk is located in the northwest corner of the lobby on the first floor of the Capitol, 444-4800. You can pick up daily floor and committee schedules, legislative guides, and maps of the Capitol here.

Bill Distribution Office: Located in Room 74 in the Capitol basement. Accredited members of the media are entitled to a free set of legislative proceedings, all versions of bills, amendments, fiscal notes, etc. You can pick up these and a free copy of the legislative rules book here.

Offices of the Secretary of the Senate / Chief Clerk of the House: Located in Room 302B and Room 370, respectively. You can get copies of roll call votes from these offices shortly after the votes are taken. Marilyn Miller is Secretary of the Senate, 406-444-4801, mmiller2@mt.gov; Lindsey Vroegindewey is Chief Clerk of the House, 444-4819, lvroegindewey@mt.gov.

Offices of the Sergeants at Arms: Carl Spencer, Sergeant at Arms for the Senate, is located in Room 375, 406-444-4878, carlspencer@mt.gov. Brad Murfitt, Sergeant at Arms for the House, is located in Room 470, 406-444-4200, bmurfitt@mt.gov.

Legislative Audit Division: Located in Room 160 at the west end of the first floor of the Capitol, 406-444-3122. Legislative Auditor: Angus Maciver, amaciver@mt.gov.

Legislative Fiscal Division: Located in Room 110 at the east end of the first floor of the Capitol, 406-444-2986. Legislative Fiscal Analyst: Amy Carlson, acarlson@mt.gov.

Legislative Services Division: Located in Room 110 at the east end of the first floor of the Capitol, 406-444-3064. Executive Director: Susan Byorth Fox, sfox@mt.gov.

Legislative Reference Center: The Reference Center is part of the Communications Office. Its collection includes session laws and Montana Code Annotated dating back to statehood, as well as numerous other resources. An online card catalog is available on the legislative website. Located in Room 10 of the Capitol basement. Legislative Information Resources Manager: Sonia Gavin, 406-444-4848, sgavin@mt.gov.

Websites

Legislative website: leg.mt.gov If you want help finding information online, contact the Legislative Information Office, 406-444-3067.

LAWS (Legislative Automated Workflow System): leg.mt.gov/laws.htm A free, interactive, online service that can help you find official information about current and past sessions, including bill text and status, votes, and committee agendas and schedules. The Office of Legislative Information Technology offers training in the use of LAWS in the months before each legislative session. To find out more about training, or to get help with LAWS, contact the Office of Legislative Information Technology, at 406-444-0912.

National Conference of State Legislatures: ncsl.org A bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and legislative staffs of the nation’s 50 states and its commonwealths and territories. NCSL provides research, technical assistance, and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on pressing state issues.

Council of State Governments: csg.org A bipartisan organization formed in 1933 to help state government staff and officials with leadership training, research and information products, and regional problem-solving activities.

Stateline.org: Funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts as a public service, this website, staffed entirely by professional journalists, was originally envisioned primarily as a resource for reporters who cover state government. Articles on the site focus on state policy innovations and trends. In addition to online news, the Washington, D.C., based organization periodically publishes free printed reference materials and sponsors professional development conferences and workshops for the news media.

Publications

Guide to Montana’s Legislative Assembly: This handy little guide, published before every session, includes photos, personal information, and contact information for all legislators. It also includes committee assignments, seating charts, and staff and leadership information. Published by the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association, Montana Telecommunications Association, and Montana Independent Telecommunications Systems. Available free from the Session Information Desk while supplies last. A mobile app will also be available for the 2017 session at this website: http://www.montanaco-ops.com/

Lawmakers of Montana (the Copper Book): Another handy reference that includes photos of and more extensive biographical information about all legislators. Available for purchase at the Bill Distribution Office in room 74 of the Capitol.

Lobbyist Directory: Published by the Montana Society of Association Executives. Available by calling MSAE, 406-449-4133.

Montana State Government Telephone Directory: Published by the state Department of Administration and available online at http://mt.gov/govt/statedir/statephonebook.mcpx.

Montana Code Annotated: The official version of all state laws currently in effect. Available on the legislative website at leg.mt.gov. Click on Laws and Constitution. Bound copies are also available for purchase in the Legislative Services Division Office in Room 110 of the Capitol. Copies are available for review in the Legislative Reference Center in the basement of the Capitol and at the State Law Library, 215 North Sanders, 406-444-3660.

Rules of the Montana Legislature: The House, Senate and joint rules are adopted and published in the early days of each session. Copies are available at no charge to journalists from the Bills Distribution Office in Room 74 in the basement of the Capitol.

Understanding State Finances and the Budgeting Process: A reference manual for legislators produced by and available from the Legislative Fiscal Division, Room 110 of the Capitol. (Back to top)

 


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Last Modified:
1/20/2017 4:02:58 PM