Jonathon Ambarian

HELENA (KPA) - The work of the Montana Legislature's 68th session might not officially start until Monday, Jan. 2, but there’s already a steady stream of bills ready to go through the lawmaking process.

As of Thursday, according to data from the state Legislative Services Division, 4,332 bill draft requests had already been submitted — though many of those are just placeholder titles that may not develop into active legislation.

That is already almost 1,000 more draft requests than the entire 2021 legislative session when 3,367 were submitted.

A total of 271 bills have already been “pre-introduced,” meaning they’ve been drafted and assigned to committees even before the Legislature begins. At least 85 of those bills are set for their first committee hearings during the first week of the session.

“Committee work is going to start on Day 2; we’re going to be reading bills across the rostrum on Day 1,” said House speaker-elect Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell. “It is an unprecedented jump into action right away, but a lot of work ahead of us and an excited caucus to get that work done.”

Regier said many of the pre-introduced bills deal with things like consolidating state boards and cleaning up state code.

In the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions, less than 40% of bill draft requests were actually introduced for debate.

Since 2011, 20% or less of those requests have made it all the way through the Legislature.

If those patterns hold in 2023, lawmakers could still be considering up to 1,600 bills this session.

Regier said, despite the spike in requests, he doesn’t expect a significant increase in the number of bills introduced.

“Committee work might be a little heavier, but as far as the floor sessions, I’m expecting probably a little increase in volume,” he said.

The number of requests does show some of the topics lawmakers may be focused on during the upcoming session.

For example, of the bill draft requests so far:
  • 28 deal with abortion
  • 49 deal with guns and weapons
  • 52 deal with marijuana
  • 81 deal with housing
  • 147 deal with fish and wildlife
  • 269 deal with education
  • 269 deal with elections
  • 342 deal with taxes

Also, at least 48 proposals for amending the Montana Constitution have been submitted.

If 100 lawmakers — two-thirds of the combined Legislature — endorse an amendment, it will be placed on the 2024 ballot for voters to approve or reject.

Since Republicans hold a 102-seat supermajority, they can advance a proposed constitutional amendment if GOP lawmakers unite behind it.

There’s no hard number for it, but there’s one other big difference expected at this legislative session: a lot more people in the hallways of the Montana State Capitol.

Many of the restrictions put in place in 2021 because of COVID-19 have now been removed, and it’s likely the atmosphere will be a lot closer to previous sessions.