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Montanans Contacting Legislators in Greater Numbers

February 24, 2009View for printing

Montanans inundated a legislative message center with calls this month, a sign that more and more citizens are actively participating in the legislative process.

In the first half of the 2009 session, the Session Information Center http://www.leg.mt.gov received close to 13,000 calls from people wanting to leave messages for their legislators, according to Kevin Hayes, center supervisor. That includes more than 2,800 calls in one week - the week of Feb. 9 - when citizens left more than 20,000 messages indicating their support or opposition to various bills.

"That week was remarkable," Hayes said. "I've never had a week even remotely approaching that, and I've been doing this since the 1997 session."

By comparison, the message center got a total of 12,284 calls during the entire 2007 session.

Another 32,000 people have used an online message form to contact their legislators in the first half of this session. That compares to a total of 46,324 messages in all of last session.

Hayes attributes the increase in calls and messages to a number of factors.

"I think there's a renewal in interest in politics since the fall election," he said. "I don't really have any statistics to base that on. It's just a gut feeling based on observation."

He also believes that "people are more connected than they've ever been." He noted that some of the more than 100 people who showed up to testify against a bill banning pit bulls said they had received text messages alerting them to the public hearing.

"Lobbying groups are getting more organized about spreading the word to their members," he suggested, "and technology is making it easier."

Legislative leaders are delighted by the apparent trend.

"For our system of government to work, citizens have to get involved," said Rep. Bob Bergren, speaker of the House. "If people aren't engaged, then we can't be responsive to their needs, and the system doesn't work."

"Montanans elected us to represent their views," added Sen. Bob Story, president of the Senate. "So they need to let us know their views, and we need to listen to them."

To send a message to your legislator using the online message form, visit www.leg.mt.gov/message.

To contact your legislator through the Session Information Center, call 406-444-4800. Be prepared to provide:

* your name and address

* the name of the legislator(s) or committee for whom your message is intended

* the number of the bill you wish to support or oppose

* a brief explanation for your position on the bill

You may leave messages for as many as five legislators or one legislative committee at a time. The service is available Mondays through Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to adjournment, while the Legislature is in session.

The Session Information Center does not accept anonymous messages.

"We also don't do blanket messages to all legislators," Hayes said. "It's most effective to contact members of a committee that is holding a public hearing on a bill or the legislators who represent your House and Senate districts."

If you aren't sure who your legislators are, contact your local elections office or visit the legislative website at http://www.leg.mt.gov and click on "Find a Legislator."
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Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. Full copyright retained by the original publication. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.


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