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A Legislator's Job

From "A Student's Guide to the Montana Legislature."

The job of a state legislator is very demanding, even though it’s only part-time.

  • Your legislator must be dedicated and committed.
  • Your legislator must study hard to understand many different subjects — from agriculture to health to transportation.
  • Your legislator must make important decisions under heavy pressure from people with many different beliefs and interests.
  • Your legislator must balance the needs of constituents with what is best for all Montanans.

Ultimately, your legislator helps to determine the quality of life in Montana. It’s an important job!

Who Can Be a Legislator?

To be a state senator or representative, you must meet these constitutional qualifications:

  • You must be a citizen of the United States.
  • You must be a resident of Montana for at least a year before getting elected.
  • You must be 18 or older.
  • You must live in the county that you wish to represent. If your legislative district covers more than one county, you must live in the district.

In Session

During the 90-day sessions, legislators spend nearly all of their time at the Capitol in Helena. They work long hours. They often work 6 days a week. They get few chances to go home to their families and their regular jobs.

The main job of legislators is to enact new laws or amend or repeal existing laws. They also:

  • Decide how much money to spend to operate state programs and services.
  • Decide how much to tax Montanans to support state programs and services.
  • Keep their constituents informed and help them access state programs and services.
  • Monitor the work of state executive agencies.
  • Make sure the laws they pass are carried out as they intended.

Between Sessions

The job of a legislator doesn’t end when a session ends. Legislative committees meet regularly during the interims between sessions.

During each session, legislators identify topics they want to study in more depth. They appoint interim committees to conduct these studies. The committees often invite experts to present information to them. Members of the public also get a chance to have their say. Sometimes legislators travel to other communities to learn about issues firsthand.

During the interims, legislators have more time to debate and discuss issues. They’re under less pressure than they are during sessions. They use what they learn from their interim studies to make well-informed decisions about what bills to consider during the next session.

Salary & Compensation

State law dictates how much legislators can earn for their work. Legislators currently get paid a little more than $10 an hour for each day that the Legislature is in session. They may choose to work for no salary.

Legislators also get an allowance, or stipend, to help reimburse them for the costs of attending a session. This allowance helps to pay for travel, meals, and a place to stay in Helena.

The state Constitution prohibits the Legislature from setting its own pay. Legislators during one session may set the pay for future sessions.

Legislators are as different as the people they are elected to represent. Each one brings unique ideas, experiences, and understanding to the legislative process.

* * *

For further discussion:

  1. Do you think an 18-year-old could be an effective legislator? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think the most important part of a legislator’s job is? The hardest?

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Last Modified:
7/1/2008 3:26:22 PM