Legislators gather in the House and Senate chambers during floor sessions to debate and vote on bills. But first, they hold committee meetings where they can listen to the concerns and recommendations of the public, lobbyists, and other legislators.
Each legislator usually serves on at least one committee. In the House, the speaker appoints committee members. In the Senate, a Committee on Committees appoints them.
Every bill that the House and Senate considers is first assigned to a committee based on its subject matter. The chair of the committee, who is a member of the majority party, schedules a public hearing on the bill. These hearings are the most effective way for citizens to express their opinions about bills.
At the hearing, the public is invited to testify for or against the bill. Based on that testimony, committee members vote to recommend that the House or Senate pass the bill, kill the bill, or amend the bill. The committee may also table the bill, which means the committee has no recommendation. Tabling a bill often kills it.
Committees that meet during legislative sessions are called standing committees. Sometimes joint committees or joint subcommittees are formed with members from both chambers.
If the House and Senate cannot agree on amendments to a bill, they may appoint a special conference committee to try to find a compromise that both chambers can accept.
Every bill that passes the Legislature comes before each chamber at least three times.
Once a bill has been assigned a number, its read to the chamber during what is called first reading. The presiding officer assigns the bill to a committee.
If a committee recommends passage of a bill, the bill is placed on second reading. At this time, the entire chamber, called into a Committee of the Whole, debates the bill during a floor session. Legislators may offer amendments. If the House or Senate votes to pass the bill during second reading, the bill (with any amendments) is placed on third reading.
The vote on third reading is the most important vote. It decides whether the bill passes the House or Senate. Legislators may not amend or debate a bill on third reading.
Once a bill passes through one chamber, it is transmitted to the other chamber. It goes through the same process there. If the second chamber amends the bill, it is sent back to the first chamber for approval of the amendments.
Each bill must pass both chambers in the same form before it is sent to the governor for his or her signature. If the two chambers cannot agree on amendments, they may appoint a conference committee to try to find a compromise.
The Governors Role
Once a bill passes both chambers in the same form, it is sent to the governor. The governor has four options: sign the bill into law, recommend amendments to the bill, veto the bill, or take no action. If the governor takes no action, the bill becomes law after 10 days.
The governor may return a bill to the Legislature with suggested amendments. If the Legislature rejects the governors suggestions, the governor may not return a bill with further amendments.
The Legislature may override a governors veto if two-thirds of the members of each chamber vote in favor of doing so.
After a bill is signed by the governor or passed by the Legislature over the governors veto, it is incorporated into the Montana Code Annotated (MCA). This is a compilation of all state laws. It is updated after each legislative session.
There are other publications that provide more information about the laws passed during a session. These include the Laws of Montana (session laws) and the History and Final Status of Bills and Resolutions.
Copies of legislative publications are available in libraries throughout the state and on this website.