Helena State Capitol File Are

The sun shines on Montana's capitol building on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Helena.

Montana lawmakers are considering changes to their legislative schedule, but they don’t agree on what they should do.

While some lawmakers called for a switch to annual legislative sessions, others pushed for the status quo of biennial meetings and others advocated for the middle ground of improving their existing work when they spoke at a Legislative Council subcommittee hearing on Tuesday in Helena.

The subcommittee held the discussion as part of its effort to examine possible revisions to the Legislature. Tuesday’s hearing was one of several meetings that comprise Legislative Week, which began Monday and aims to give lawmakers a sense of what annual sessions might look like.

Rep. Chris Pope, D-Bozeman, was among those in favor of annual sessions. He said the current structure is “failing” and that annual sessions would allow lawmakers to be more thoughtful and have more time to work together, which could reduce partisanship.

Coming at annual sessions from a slightly different angle, Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, said shorter annual sessions might be easier for people to attend by reducing how long they’d have to leave work and could, therefore, increase participation in the Legislature.

“We would better serve the people of Montana if we came here every year for a shorter time,” he said.

However, Rep. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, urged the Legislature to keep biennial sessions. He pointed out that when Montana revised the state constitution in the 1970s, lawmakers tried an annual session before deciding that meeting every two years was more effective.

Several lawmakers discussed tweaks to the general and interim sessions rather than overhauling them.

Rep. Denley Loge, R-St. Regis, proposed starting the general session later, leaving time before the Legislature begins for training. Others suggested having time during the interim session for lawmakers to meet and receive training.

Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston, urged lawmakers to think about ways to build on the interim session, which she said gives lawmakers the time and resources to make more “robust” decisions than they can during the general session.

The Legislative Council will use Tuesday’s comments and Legislative Week to inform policy recommendations it makes for the 2021 general session, but any change to the Legislature would require revising the state constitution and would have to go to the voters for approval.

Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.