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The full assembly of the state House of Representatives during the special legislative session.

The Montana House of Representatives is pictured in this 2018 file photo from the special legislative session. 

The state would explore holding a legislative session every year instead of in odd-numbered years under a proposal before lawmakers.

The state House Legislative Administration Committee approved Wednesday a pair of bills that would change the way the Legislature operates: one to consider holding annual legislative sessions and another to split the Legislature’s interim Revenue and Transportation Committee in two.

Sen. Ryan Osmundson’s Senate Bill 310 calls for the state Legislative Council and Legislative Finance Committee to study the logistics of holding annual legislative sessions of 45 days or fewer. The study would center on the feasibility of the Legislature focusing on the state budget in even-numbered years and policy in odd-numbered years.

State lawmakers have pushed for such studies in previous sessions. A similar 2017 bill carried by Rep. Jim Hamilton, D-Bozeman, who sits on the House Legislative Administration Committee, died on the Senate floor.

Osmundson, a Republican from Buffalo, said a switch to annual sessions could help counteract the effects of term limits, which were voted into the state constitution in 1992.

“Due to the fact that we have lost some institutional knowledge, due to the fact that there is a huge learning curve every year that comes in, what have we done as a legislative branch to adjust for those term limits? To adjust for the fact that we don’t have that institutional knowledge?” Osmundson asked. “And I am hoping that this could possibly bring a little bit more involvement in the legislative branch to state government.”

Montana is one of only four states, including Nevada, North Dakota and Texas, with legislatures that meet biennially instead of annually. The number of states holding biennial sessions fell from 31 in the early 1960s to just nine by the mid-'70s, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Gordon Vance, a Republican from Belgrade, told the committee separate policy and budget sessions would benefit legislators by encouraging them to engage in discussions of both rather than specializing in one or the other.

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“From my perspective, I just think that would be really beneficial to not only the members but to the process in general,” said Vance, who deemed himself “a policy guy.”

Vance’s Senate Bill 226, presented in the same meeting, would split up the interim revenue and transportation committee. He cited inspiration from last session’s separation of the Education and Local Government Interim Committee, in which he said education often overshadowed local government.

Osmundson’s bill passed unanimously in both of its Senate floor votes last month. Vance’s bill achieved similar bipartisan success, clearing the Senate 44-5 on its third reading Feb. 20. They both move onto the House floor.

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