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From Idea to Bill

The problems that face Montana citizens change and grow. Montana law must change and grow to meet the challenges of the future. Every session, the Legislature considers passing new laws or changing existing ones to meet those challenges.

Only legislators may introduce bills. But where do legislators get the ideas for the bills they propose? They come from many different sources:

Individual legislators. Members of the Montana Legislature have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. They may be parents, students, teachers, lawyers, farmers, doctors, or businesspersons. Each member’s expertise and personal experiences influences the kinds of bills he or she proposes.

Constituents. Often, concerned citizens or groups will alert legislators to problems and ask them to sponsor legislation to address those problems. Stories in the media may also bring problems to legislators’ attention.

Government agencies. The executive agencies that administer state programs and services may see a problem that might be solved through legislation. Employees of these agencies may approach legislators and ask them to sponsor bills to address the problems.

Interim committees. These legislative committees meet between sessions to study certain topics in depth. They may decide to introduce legislation as a result of their studies.

Interest groups. Interest groups may represent single issues, trades, professions, or social groups. Some examples are groups that represent labor, business, teachers, farmers, low-income people, and veterans. Because interest groups usually have greater resources than individuals, they can be very effective in urging legislators to propose bills.

Court decisions. If a court finds a problem with a law or finds a law to be unconstitutional, legislators may decide to try to fix the problem with new legislation.

Other states. If there is no clear solution to a problem, legislators may ask their staff to research how other states have addressed similar issues.

Once a legislator has an idea for a bill, he or she asks the legislative staff to draft it. The bill drafter makes sure the bill is written in the proper legal form. The drafter also works with the legislator to make sure the bill will accomplish what the legislator intends.

Once the bill is drafted, one or more legislators may sign the bill as sponsors. The main sponsor is responsible for seeing that the bill makes its way through the legislative process.

Legislators must introduce their bills by filing them either with the chief clerk of the House or the secretary of the Senate. Senators must introduce their bills in the Senate. Representatives must introduce their bills in the House. Only House members may sponsor bills that appropriate money.

The secretary or clerk assigns a number to each bill. The number reflects where the bill originates. For example, a Senate bill might be called SB 1 and a House bill HB 1. This is how the bill is identified throughout the legislative process, even after it’s transmitted to the second chamber.

The legislative process is cumbersome and complex. But the nation’s founders intended it to be that way. They wanted every bill to get careful scrutiny. They wanted anyone affected by a bill to have a voice in the debate.

The system of government they designed helps to ensure that only the best ideas survive and become law.

From Bill to Law


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Last Modified:
12/4/2009 3:46:13 PM