Senate Supports Yearly Sessions, but the Idea Faces Long Odds

Posted on March 7, 2011



HELENA — The old saying “Hide your cattle, hide your money, the Legislature is in session”‘ may still be on voters’ minds, some lawmakers argued Monday as the Senate looked at a measure to switch to annual sessions.

Senate Bill 261 by Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, would lessen the total amount of time legislators were in session by 10 days every two years, but also mandate annual sessions if 2012 voters approved the ballot referendum.

Essmann said the 2013 Legislature would decide how long and what the focus of the annual sessions would be, but they could not run over a total of 80 days in a two-year period.

SB 261 has bipartisan leadership support, but needs 100 votes of the full 150-member body to make it on the ballot. In an initial vote, it got 33.

“I’m pleased with the vote,” Essmann said. Adding that the measure should be in good shape if they can hold the 33 Senate votes through the final vote on Tuesday.

During debate, Essmann said annual sessions would give people more access to the workings of the Legislature and take the rush out of the process.  They would create a better balance of power between lawmakers and the other two-full-time branches of government, and allow more people the chance to run for office by reducing the number of consecutive days lawmakers would have to stay away from their jobs and families, he added.

The state might even save money through reducing interim travel and other costs.

But opponents said voters would still see annual sessions as giving politicians more time to monkey with laws.

“The Legislature meets 90 days every two years and I think a lot of Montanans out there would prefer that we met for two days every 90 years,” said Sen. Joe Balyeat, R- Bozeman.

If the measure holds its 33 votes on Tuesday it would need another 67 votes in the House to go to the public.

– Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at 208-816-0809 or by e-mail at

Posted in: Daily Grind