Montana State Legislature

Guidelines for the Media

member of the Press looking to report on the Legislative Session 

To request floor privileges, you will need to register with the Legislative Financial Office:

  1. fill out the one-page form
  2. provide a letter of introduction on official letterhead from your sponsoring news outlet with yours and your supervisor’s contact information

You must submit these 2 items via email to legfinservices@legmt.gov, for approval. Once approved, the form will be sent to the General Services Division (GSD) at the Department of Administration. 

The entire approval process could take a week or so. Someone from the Legislative Branch will reach out to the email provided with updates.

You will then head to 1310 East Lockey (Old Livestock Building) to have your photo taken and badge created.  Media badges (and replacement badges) costs $10 each.  GSD’s phone number is 406-444-3060.

 

Covering the Legislature: A Reporter's Guide

As with all things this year due to the Covid pandemic, social distancing requirements, and health care guidelines- some changes in past practices are necessary to protect everyone.  Be aware that masks and social distancing are required in the capitol and other state buildings.  The Sgts at Arms will have the most current guidelines each day and will modify available seating in hearing rooms and the chamber, as needed.  Please direct any questions or concerns to them. 


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, a registered media 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.

House and Senate rules limit who is permitted on the chamber floors during legislative proceedings. But both chambers specifically extend floor privileges to “registered” members of the news media (Senate Rule 20-50, House Rule 20-40).

To request floor privileges, you will need to register with the Legislative Financial Office:

  1. fill out the one-page form
  2. provide a letter of introduction on official letterhead from your sponsoring news outlet with yours and your supervisor’s contact information

You must submit these 2 items via email to legfinservices@legmt.gov, for approval. Once approved, the form will be sent to the General Services Division (GSD) at the Department of Administration. 

The entire approval process could take a week or so. Someone from the Legislative Branch will reach out to the email provided with updates.

You will then head to 1310 East Lockey (Old Livestock Building) to have your photo taken and badge created.  Media badges (and replacement badges) costs $10 each.  GSD’s phone number is 406-444-3060.

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.

When you sign the media badge application, you are acknowledging that you have read and understand these rules of decorum and will abide by them.  Deviation or inappropriate behaviors can result in the pulling of a media badge and the loss of chamber access privileges. 

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 Securitas 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.

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 to request permission and assistance to find an appropriate parking space for the truck.

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

All camera bags, tripods, and other media equipment must have users' business card/contact information attached to them.

Any items brought on to the chamber floors and committee rooms are subject to inspection from the Sergeant at Arms.

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, a registered media 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. 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 with 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. Do not block the fire tower stair exit with tripods or other equipment, chairs, or bags, as 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 20-70). 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 or address a legislator at his or her chamber desk during floor session.
  • Move about the center aisle of either chamber during floor session.
  • 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. You may not pick up a call on the chamber floor or gallery and should step out for your conversation.

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 should consider waiting to enter the chambers until they are concluded. Many legislators consider it improper for journalists not to participate or to be moving around during the time.

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.

 

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.

Electrical outlets and media audio feeds are available in all hearing 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 e-mail leadams@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 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Via the legislative webpage you can also access 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 http://laws.leg.mt.gov/legprd/LAW0200W$.startup

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.

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 Fiscal and Human Resource Office, 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.

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, in published legislative guides.

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.

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 https://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.

Staff

Legislative Office of Information Services (OLIS): Office staff are located in Room 10 at the east end of the Capitol basement and in Room 173. You can contact OLIS at 444-0912, or olis-servicedesk@mt.gov with any questions concerning the Montana Legislature. This office can help direct you to the best person to answer your questions. For the 2021 session, please call or email. 

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 west Capitol basement. Accredited members of the media are entitled to a free set of legislative proceedings, including 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 302 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 ; Carolyn Tschida is Chief Clerk of the House, 444-4819, Carolyn.tschida@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 https://leg.mt.gov/ Call 444-0912 for assistance in locating materials.

 

Websites

Legislative website: leg.mt.gov If you want help finding information online, contact the Legislative Office of Information Services, 406-444-0912.

LAWS (Legislative Automated Workflow System): https://leg.mt.gov/bill-info/ is 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. Contact the Legislative Office of Information Services, 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

Montana Legislative Guide: Guide to Montana’s Legislative Assembly: This handy little guide, published at the start of 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 and Montana Telecommunications Association. Available free from the Session Information Desk while supplies last or by emailing meca@mtco-ops.com. A mobile app is also available for the 2021 session at this website: https://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 from the Bill Distribution Office in room 74 of the Capitol or call 444-0627.

Lobbyist Directory: Published by the Montana Society of Association Executives. Available by calling MSAE, Webb Scott Brown 406-431-9508.

Montana State Government Telephone Directory: is available online at https://directory.mt.gov/govt/state-dir/agency

Montana Code Annotated: The official version of all state laws currently in effect. Bound copies are available for purchase in the Legislative Services Division Office in Room 110 of the Capitol, online at https://leg.mt.gov/statute/mca-publications/ for the online store, the order form, or free PDFs of most of our publications can be found online. For any publications questions, please call Publications Officer Molly Petersen at 444-2957 or email LegPubSales@mt.gov.  Bound copies are available for review in the Legislative Reference Center in room 10 east 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 or call 444-0627.

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.

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