The leadership of the Montana Legislature is meeting in Bozeman Dec. 13 to solicit ideas for improving the people's branch of government. The meeting convenes at 10:30 a.m. in the Plant Biosciences Building, Room 108, on the MSU campus.
The meeting on the Montana State University campus is a good opportunity for citizens to see the Legislative Council in action and talk to members. The Council is a bipartisan committee composed of House and Senate leadership that is charged with educating the public about the workings of the Legislature, fostering public participation, and preserving the integrity of legislature as an equal branch of government.
Members include the President of the Senate, Scott Sales, R-Bozeman and Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson. Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, is the chair, and Rep. Jenny Eck, D-Helena, is the vice-chair. While the Council usually meets in Helena, members are visiting three Montana communities over the next year to bring government closer to residents.
The public is invited to participate in a discussion about the legislative institution or any of the agenda topics with leadership. Opportunities include time in the morning approximately 11:30 a.m., in the afternoon approximately 2:30 p.m., and a dedicated public comment session from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Montana is one of a few states with citizen legislatures, meaning most lawmakers have other jobs in addition to their elected duties. The Montana Legislature also convenes only in odd-numbered years. Montana is one of only two state legislatures in which citizen legislators who are term-limited meet every two years (Nevada is the other). However, legislators work year round, even when not in session. Many of the issues the Legislative Council deals with are related to citizen legislators who spend most of their time outside the Capitol.
While legislators are always interested in policy and policy debate, the Bozeman forum is not about specific state policies or budgets. It is intended to focus on civic education, the legislative institution, and the legislative process. The Council is interested in the following:
The evening session follows business meetings during the day of the Council. The Council manages the operations of the Legislature and studies issues related to legislative business and is currently studying issues related to email, including what constitutes public records as well as how long and in what manner messages are archived. Legislators receive email on their personal devices and some use personal email accounts in addition to or instead of state email accounts.
Compensation for legislators also is a perennial issue. Montana legislators earn $11.33 an hour. During legislative sessions, that equates to just more than $90 for an 8-hour day, though many lawmakers work longer hours. Legislators are also paid for days when interim committees meet, however they are not paid for such things as attending meetings in their districts or answering constituent questions. The argument can be made that given the gravity of the decisions legislators make as well as the time and knowledge required, they should be better paid. Understandably, however, lawmakers around the country are reluctant to raise their own salaries.
At the afternoon meeting in Bozeman, the Council will discuss allowing an independent commission to evaluate salaries and make recommendations. Current and past reports are on the Council's meeting website.
Other members of the Council are Reps. House Majority Whip Seth Berglee, R-Joliet; Wylie Galt, R-Martinsdale; House Minority Whips Shane Morigeau, D-Missoula and Casey Schreiner, D-Great Falls. Senators are Senate Majority Whip Edward Buttrey, R-Great Falls; Senate Minority Whips Tom Facey, D-Missoula and JP Pomnichowski, D-Bozeman; and Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte.