The term "LAWS" is an abbreviation of Legislative Automated Workflow System. A key function of the system is the collection and timely distribution of information related to the Montana Legislature. The LAWS system contains detailed information on all bills and bill drafts prior to, during, and after the Montana legislative session.
During a legislative session, floor agendas, journals, and floor action summaries for both of the house chambers are available from LAWS.
The public access portion of LAWS consists of an internet web server that serves information from the legislative session database. The web site also has links to bill text, and other related information. Please note that the LAWS web site is down from approximately 1:00 to 3:00 AM (MST) for system maintenance and backup.
Use of the public access portion of LAWS requires a computer with an internet connection, a world-wide-web browser, and the Adobe PDF reader plug in. Most public libraries have these if you do not.
The Adobe PDF reader plug in is available free of charge, and versions are available for most PC operating systems (Windows, Mac, Unix, and others). Get the reader here.
Users of the Advanced Preference List Maintenance area of LAWS need a web browser that supports "frames" and a PC that will operate at a screen resolution of 800x600 or higher.
You should allow your browser to accept cookies while using LAWS. The cookies are used only to maintain information while you are searching for bills within LAWS.
LAWS has been tested with Netscape version 3.x and higher, and Internet Explorer version 4.x and higher. Other browsers or versions may or may not work with LAWS. In most cases other browsers will work to get basic information, but some advanced LAWS functions may not work properly and/or error messages are returned.
Help Using LAWS
If you are familiar with the world-wide-web you should be able to use LAWS effectively. Most users should be able to use this service without much trouble by following the instructions on this help page, and simply trying the features by selecting links. Be sure to read the page labels; especially when entering information so the format you use is correct (for example dates).
This page will be updated to further explain the system functions when needed. If you need additional assistance you should contact a consultant or other resource to assist you. As a free service, the Montana Legislative Services Division can not, and will not be able to assist you.
The only "tricky" part of using the LAWS system is defining your searches correctly. Searching is explained in detail below.
Searching for Bills
Within LAWS there are several ways to find bills of interest to you. From the LAWS home page click on the "Look Up Bill Information" link. The Look Up Bill Information page is displayed.
The simplest way to locate bill information is to enter the bill number, or bill draft number in the appropriate box on the upper section of this page. Be sure to use the format shown on the labels next to the boxes. If you enter a valid number, and click the "Find" button, the Detailed Bill Information page will display with the all of the current information for the bill you selected. If you enter a number that does not exist, the Detailed Bill Information page will display with the text "No Records returned" shown.
Note: When entering a bill number on the search page you must first select the appropriate Bill Type for the bill. The types are: HB - House Bill, HJ - House Joint Resolution, HR - House Resolution, SB - Senate Bill, SJ - Senate Joint Resolution, SR - Senate Resolution. If you enter the wrong type, you will not find the bill you are looking for.
The middle section of the Look Up Bill Information page let's you find bills if you know a bill's subject, or primary sponsor. Get a printable list of all LAWS subjects here. In the "Basic Searching for Bills by..." section of the page, click on the link immediately to the right of the subject or sponsor box. If you click on the subject link you will see a list of all available subjects. Click on one to select it. The subject you selected will now be shown in the subject text box. Click on the "Find" button in this section of the page, and you will see the Bill Search Results page. All bills related to the subject you selected will be displayed on this page. Introduced bills are shown in the upper section; unintroduced bill drafts in the lower section. Click on a bill number link, or bill draft number link to get Detailed Bill Information.
Searching for bills using the primary sponsor works the same as the subject search described in the preceding paragraph.
You can use the two basic searching options together. For example you could select a subject of "Agriculture". Then you could select a primary sponsor of "Doe, John". If you then select find, you will retrieve a list of all bills where the primary sponsor is John Doe AND the bill has a subject identifier of Agriculture.
Near the bottom of the Look Up Bill Information page are links to other bill search options:
List All Introduced and Unintroduced Bills: This will display a listing of all bills and bill drafts. In earlier versions of LAWS you would have needed to use the Advanced Bill Search to do this. Advanced Bill Searching: Link to LAWS Advanced Bill Search page (described in detail below). Search the Text of Bills Using Keywords: Note that only bills and bill drafts that have text available electronically are included. Bill drafts that are not yet ready for publication will not be searched, although you can find status for these in the LAWS system. Directory Listing of Introduced Bills. Note that only bills that have been introduced are in the list. Directory Listing of Unintroduced Bill Drafts. Note that only bill drafts that have text available electronically are in the list. Detailed Index of Introduced Bills: Link to introduced bill indexes. Preference List Searching (Restricted):See below
How to Establish a Preference List: This process has changed considerably from earlier versions of LAWS; see below.
The Advanced Bill Search page gives you great flexibility and power to find bills. But, you must understand how the searches work, or you will not get the results you want.
On the top area of the page is a group of check boxes for the different types of bills, and one for unintroduced bill drafts. If you leave these all in their default (checked) state, then your search will return all bills that otherwise qualify with your search. If you do not want your search to return specific types of bills, then simply uncheck the option(s) for those you do not want.
The tables on the rest of the page let you refine your search using categories to locate only the bills of interest to you. Click on the link in the left cell of a row, Requestors... for example, and a list of legislators is displayed. Select a name from the list, and it will appear in the right cell of the row. In all rows except the last (Bill Action) you can select multiple values and an OR condition applies. What that means is if you select multiple values within a row the results will display bills for each of the selections.
Read this paragraph carefully: If you select from multiple category rows, an AND condition applies. For example if you select a Requestor of John Doe, then go down to the Subject and select Agriculture, only those bills where John Doe is the Requestor, AND the bill has a Subject of Agriculture will show in the results. Multiple selections within one row use OR logic. If you select a Requestor of John Doe, and then select another Requestor, say Jane Doe, then the results will show bills where the Requestor is John Doe OR Jane Doe.
Across rows uses AND logic; within rows uses OR logic.
Once you have entered the parameters for your search, click on the "Submit" button and you will see the Bill Search results page. All bills meeting your search criteria will be displayed on this page. Introduced bills are shown in the upper section; unintroduced bill drafts in the lower section. Click on a bill number link, or bill draft number link to see the Detailed Bill Information page.
Note: The Advanced Bill Search page will accept multiple search criteria in multiple rows. But, if your search exceeds pre-set system parameters (you have too many criteria) an error will be returned. It's not likely you will exceed this with a "typical" search, although it is possible. If you do you must click the reset button and reduce the search criteria.
The date range functions with the "Bill Action" row at the bottom of the page have changed from previous versions. "From" and "Through" are inclusive of the date entered. If you want only one day, say January 25th, then you would enter 01/25/2001 in the From Date box and 01/25/2001 in the Through Date box.
The "Reset" buttons at the top and bottom of the page clear all existing search criteria so you can start a new search.
On the LAWS home page is a link to find information about legislative committees, and scheduled hearings on bills. Click on the "Committee and Hearing Information" link. You will see the Committee and Hearing Information page.
To find information about a specific committee, click on the drop-down list box in the top section of the page. You will see a list of committees. Select a committee by clicking on it in the list. The committee name will appear in the "Committee Name" text box. Click on the "Find" button. The Detailed Committee Information page will display showing you when and where the committee normally meets, scheduled bill hearings, and a membership list.
The lower section of the Committee and Hearing Information page lets you find bill hearing information for all committees within a specified date range. Enter a "From Date" and a "Through Date" in the boxes using the date format shown. On this page, dates entered are inclusive, so if you want only one day, say January 25th, then you would enter 01/25/1999 in the From Date box and 01/25/1999 in the Through Date box. Click the "Find" button, and the Scheduled Committee Hearings page will display. On that page House hearings are displayed in the upper section, and Senate hearings in the lower section.
On many of the LAWS pages there is a small image of the Capitol dome in the upper right corner of the page. Click on it to return directly back to the LAWS system home page.
You can bookmark, or add to your favorites many of the pages within the LAWS system (a bill detail page for example). Then you can later return directly to the page by selecting your bookmark. The data is updated whenever you select your bookmark, so you always get the latest!
Q: How current is the data on the LAWS system? A: The bill data (status and bill text) is up to the minute. As soon as information is recorded on the system it is available to users through the LAWS world-wide-web interface. The reports in the reports directory are updated once a day (the time is shown on the top of the report). Floor agendas, daily floor action summaries, and journals are updated once a day (during session only).
Q: When I click on a link for Fiscal Note, how come my browser asks me if I want to download or save the file? A: Fiscal notes are created by the Governor's Budget Office, and are available in two file formats. The links within LAWS (on the Detail Bill Information pages) are to Adobe PDF files. You can download a free viewer that will let you open these files with your web browser. Fiscal notes are also available in Microsoft Word format.
Q: How come, on the Detailed Bill Information page, some bill drafts have a link to bill text and others do not? A: Bills are recorded in the LAWS system as soon as they are requested. It takes time for the drafters to compose the bill text, and get it ready for introduction. During this preparation time the text is not available, so no link is shown.
Q: How come I cannot connect to the web site sometimes on weekends? A: The LAWS web site is down from approximately 12:00 to 4:00 AM (MST) for system maintenance and backup.
Q: Do I have to use the world-wide-web interface to get bill information? A: No. Most prior methods of obtaining bill and session related information are still in place. Hardcopy documents are still available from from the Legislative Services Division as in the past. If you want the most up to date information possible, the LAWS system has it.