By Zuri Moreno
What: 68th Montana Legislative Session
When: Jan 2, 2023 – April 2023
Where: Montana State Capitol Building, Helena, MT
Montana legislators arrive in Helena every two years to spend hours proposing and debating budgets and policies that impact our everyday lives. As of November 2, legislators have submitted almost 1,000 bill drafts. While some of these drafts may not become official bills, it seems likely to be a jam-packed session. But why does this matter to anyone who isn’t paid to be in that building?
First, I want to acknowledge that the processes of the legislature can be challenging to follow, and this can be a barrier for those who want to understand and participate in the Legislative Session. The convoluted processes can cloud the importance of community participation. But don’t be dissuaded just yet.
The process of passing policy at the legislature and the decisions and actions of legislators absolutely must be under public scrutiny. I’ve seen how easy it is for many elected officials to feel isolated from their constituents once they enter a fast-paced legislative session, but we must not let them forget who they are there to represent – us. As long as we have our democratic process of electing individuals, it is our responsibility to remind legislators of the issues that we each care about and why.
Across Montana, especially in rural and low-income communities, we face worker shortages in healthcare and K-12 education and less access to clean energy. The housing crisis and high inflation are at the top of everyone’s minds. These issues are interconnected, and they are a result of the policies that previous Montana legislatures passed or blocked, ultimately deciding how our state funds were invested in infrastructure and services across our communities.
This upcoming session will include policies that impact housing, clean energy, access to clean air and water, and how we address climate change. None of these should be partisan issues. By sharing our lived experiences and personal expertise on these critical topics, we can begin to shift access and affordability across Montana.
This is the third session in which I will be advocating for policies that support and advance human rights and social safety net services across Montana. One of the most impactful actions I have seen in swaying the outcome of a bill is high levels of community engagement.
Our collective role in the process of policy change is at the front, loud and unapologetically engaged. We are the experts in our lives and the challenges we face in our communities. We must communicate to our elected officials in Helena that the time is now for collaboration in creating policies that put our communities first, prioritize the health of our environment over profit, and invest in Montana’s future.
As the session gets closer, MEIC and other organizations will be hosting educational sessions on how to give committee testimony, how to contact your legislators, and how to raise awareness about what is happening in the session, like writing letters to the editor. Go to these training sessions. Bring friends. Share these opportunities with those in your community. Our democratic system runs best when everyone participates.
See you in Helena!
Zuri Moreno is a community organizer and policy specialist living in Missoula. Their passion for community engagement around issues of social and environmental justice has allowed them many opportunities to work alongside community members who are pushing for change at the local and statewide level.
This article was published in the Dec. 2022 issue of Down To Earth.