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Subject Guides: Legislative History Guide

Page history last edited by Aaron R. 1 year, 4 months ago

Montana Legislative History Guide


About the Montana Territorial Legislature


The 1864 Organic Act created Montana Territory and provided a basic government structure for the new territory, including a territorial governor, secretary and three judges appointed by the president of the United States, and a territorial legislature and non-voting representative to the U.S. House of Representatives elected by eligible voters in the territory. The act called for the legislature to meet annually for 40 days, except for the first legislature, which was granted a 60 day session. The territorial governor was to decide the date and places of the first election, apportion the members of the two houses and choose the date and place for the first legislature to meet. Thereafter, the legislature itself was to decide dates for future elections and legislative sessions and apportion seats.


About the Montana State Legislature


The Montana State Legislature is made up of two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Constitution of Montana limits the size of the Senate to no fewer than 40 and no more than 50 members and the size of the House of Representatives to no fewer than 80 and no more than 100 members. Each house is responsible for choosing its officers, creating committees and establishing its own rules. The Montana Legislature meets for 90 days every odd numbered year, beginning the first Monday in January, or the following Wednesday if the first Monday is New Years Day.



Dedication of the Montana State Capitol building, Helena, Montana,

July 4, 1902, Photo Number: 952-643



How To Use This Guide


This guide is for people who want to learn more about the history of the Montana State Legislature. In addition to listing basic information such as the names of Montana territorial and state governors, you will find information and resources in this guide on the following:

  • How to conduct research on the Legislature using primary sources and published materials held by the Montana Historical Society State Archives.
  • How to locate records--paper, audio-visual, and photographic--created by the Montana State Legislature and housed at the Montana Historical Society State Archives.
  • How to research and write and legislative history about the chronological process of a specific bill.


Use the Table of Contents at the top left-hand corner to navigate to specific information, or scroll down the page to browse the information.


What is legislative history?


According to the State Law Library of Montana the term "legislative history" can mean two different things. First, "legislative history" refers to the chronological progress of a bill through the legislative process from its introduction to its enactment into law. In the legal field, however, "legislative history," also often refers to the collection of documents that are created during that process. Judges and attorneys often turn to these documents to try to determine why the legislature enacted a particular law or to aid in the interpretation of a portion of the law. This process of using legislative history to interpret a law is often referred to as finding the "legislative intent" behind the law.  See the State Law Library of Montana's "Montana Legislative History Research Guide" for more info.


Montana Legislative Records Held at the State Archives


The Montana Historical Society State Archives is the official repository for all records created by legislative committees during a given legislative session. The State Archives holds Montana Territorial Legislative records from 1864 to 1889 and Montana State Legislative records from 1890 to current.


Please note that many of the territorial and early state records do not include House and Senate committee minutes. In addition, records for legislative sessions prior to 1972 are sparse and are not a complete representation of the activities of those sessions. The records for a given legislative special session are housed with the records for the regular session held during that same year.


Montana Territorial and State Legislative Assembly records, 1864-Present


The State Archives provides physical access to all legislative records held in our repository. Most of the records have not been digitized, but researchers wishing to access specific records remotely should contact the Archives for more information.


The Territorial and State Legislative Assembly records are organized and a guide to each session's records is available to view on the ArchivesWest platform. Guides to Montana Legislative Session records provide the following information:

  • A brief summary of what the records contain.
  • A brief history of the Montana Legislature, and any specific historical information about the specific session.
  • A longer description of the types of materials and subject matter one will find in that session's records.
  • A description of how the records were organized in order facilitate better access. 


Please note that most of records produced by a given Legislative Session have not been digitized, so the materials listed each guide are not links. However, guides to archival records can help patrons narrow down where they can find information related to a specific topic, committee session, or hearing.


To find a guide on ArchivesWest, use the "Refine by keywords" search bar in the left-hand column. Then type in one of the suggested key phrases (be sure to include quotations marks around the phrase so it searches for the entire phrase):

  • "Montana legislative assembly"
  • "Montana legislature"
  • "Territorial legislative assembly"


From there, you can search the list of guides for a specific session number or year.



Guides to Territorial Legislative Assembly Records


Guides to State Legislative Assembly Records


Guides to State Legislature Records

In 1973, the Montana Legislative Assembly

became known officially as the Montana Legislature.



*For additional information about specific legislative sessions, or for legislative session for which no records exist, researchers should consider the Montana Governor's records.


Montana State Legislative Assembly audio and video recordings, 1997-Present


The Montana Historical Society State Archives holds audio and video recordings from 1997 to 2011. The majority of these recordings have been digitized, and the digital files are available upon request. Researchers are also welcome to access the analog audio, if it hasn't yet been digitized. For assistance accessing legislative audio and video, please contact the State Archives.


The Montana Legislature's website features digital audio and video recordings, as well as scanned minute logs and exhibits, from 2005 to the present. Instructions on how to find a specific committee recording are available by clicking on this link..


An inventory of the audio and / or video produced during each session is available by clicking on the links below. These inventories reflect what the State Archives holds, and the recordings are organized by chamber and then committee.



Additional Legislative Resources Held at the State Archives


Governors' Records


List of Territorial and State Legislators

     Click the above heading to find lists of territorial and state legislators beginning with 1864 and coming up to the present.


Dave Walter's Capitol Capsules

     Click here to find an electronic version of the late MHS historian's collection of "This Day in the History of the Legislature" prepared for the Legislature in 2001.


Online Resources


  • The State Law Library of Montana's "Montana Legislative History Research Guide" provides step-by-step instructions to complete a legislative history.
  • The Montana State Legislature Website contains comprehensive information on all bills introduced by members of the state legislature from 1997-present, including the text of various versions of bills, information on upcoming hearings on bills, minutes of legislative committee hearings on bills, and audio files of selected hearings for the 2005 session and all committee hearings from 2007 sessions to the present.
  • The Montana Code Annotated is a collection of laws or statutes passed by the state legislature, arranged by topic. Montana Code Annotated is reprinted every 2 years (on odd years) after the legislature meets to incorporate changes to the laws made during the session.
  • The State Law Library of Montana gathered many links to on-line sources related to Montana laws, including a section on "Constitutional and Statehood Resources" which includes links to original texts of the state's constitutions, both historical and current, and the proceedings of the 1971-1972 Constitutional Convention.
  • The Montana State Library digitized House Journals (1864-1997), Senate Journals (1891-1997), and Council Journals (1866-1889) which provide detailed information on the proceedings of Montana's territorial and state legislatures.


 Montana Historical Society Research Center

 225 North Roberts, P.O. Box 201201, Helena, MT 59620-1201, 406-444-2681, 406-444-2696 (fax).



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