48 hours in Helena – Montana Free Press
This story may not be republished without the express permission of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Every two years, 150 citizen legislators, elected by their geographic peers and representing all parts of the state, gather in Helena to legislate. Each session lasts 90 working days, long enough for the Capitol complex to develop a distinct, albeit transitory, social ecosystem within the capital, a self-contained society made up of experienced and new legislators, lobbyists, journalists, temps, etc. interspersed with agendas to represent and bones to pick at is average citizen.
At first glance, the hustle and bustle seems random and chaotic. But soon an order emerges that is repeated every day.
In the morning, after Capitol staff have filled all the coffee carafes in the building, lawmakers meet for committee meetings at 8 a.m. This is where the intricacies of the calculations are worked out, and the public is welcome to join the conversation. Lunch is usually served by various interest groups in the rotunda before the 100 members of the House of Representatives and the 50 members of the Senate meet in their respective chambers to debate and vote on which bills should become law. Then more committee meetings fill up the rest of the day. In between the formal meetings, informal meetings crowd the hallways.
When the working day is over, the energy of democracy pours into Helena. Most lawmakers rent temporary housing for the session and live with other lawmakers or, less commonly, with their families. At the weekend, many travel long distances back to their home towns.
This year’s session is scheduled to end on May 5th. By then, the country’s laws will be codified for the next 21 months. Lawmakers will return to their normal lives until their communities again decide who to send to the Capitol to conduct the people’s business in 2025.