Tracking Legislative Activity

Finding out what’s going on in Montana state legislative sessions has never been easier. Since 1999  both current and past legislative activity can be tracked on the internet. This blog is going to provide some tips on the easiest way to learn how to track Montana legislative activity.

The best place to start is at the legislative webpage 

Montana Legislature_Page_1

This first page is very intuitive and you can explore it without  extra instruction. I want to focus on the heart of legislative activity – the bills. Montana Legislative Services has put together a very useful website called LAWS (Legal Automated Workflow System) that tracks all kinds of bill information and is updated nearly every day  during legislative sessions. LAWS is also retrospective, retaining bill information back to 1999.

From the legislative homepage you can get to LAWS by selecting BILLS on the left side of the screen and then selecting the most current LAWS offering – in this case 2015 LAWS.

LAWS Look Up Bill Information Page_Page_1

For those of you who read the Legislative Intent blog from January 2015, this page should look familiar. We used it to track past session bill information when learning about legislative intent. Today I will put this page to a different use. When you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you will find the following link:

LAWS Instructional Video Library (How-to video demos!)

This link takes you to a series of videos instructing the user how to navigate the LAWS system. The videos are all fairly short, well-illustrated , clear, concise, informative, and show you the LAWS system much more efficiently than I could here with textual descriptions and screen shots.   The longest video of the first two batches is a mere 5 minutes and 11 seconds and many of them are much shorter than that. You can pick and choose which you need to see or just watch them all if you have about 40 minutes.

LAWS Instructional Videos_Page_1

The videos in the first two sections cover basics and search options. You can watch the videos from the legislative website or you can find them on You Tube by going to You Tube and searching for “Montana Legislature LAWS – Basics”, and “Montana legislature LAWS – Search Options”. If the legislative website hangs up, I recommend going directly to You Tube and watching the videos from there. Also, if you elect to watch the videos from the legislative website but find the screen too small, you can go to full screen mode by clicking on the full screen icon in the lower right portion of the embedded You Tube screen.

There is a second set of videos that show demonstrates how to set up a personal account that allows you to focus on particular bills, drafts and hearings, complete with notifications of schedule changes. Depending on how closely you want to monitor legislative activity, you may want to learn how to set up and customize your own account.

The people at Montana Legislative Services, and in particular Jim Gordon, have done a great job presenting this information in video format.

Spring Break is here. Look for the next blog entry on April 10, 2015

Posted in Library News | Leave a comment

The Courts of Bovine Justice

In my opinion, the strangest trials to take place in the U.S. were conducted under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture. These were the scrub-sire trials held in the Courts of Bovine Justice beginning in the 1920’s.

This was a time when the science of genetics was becoming better understood and the concept of eugenics gained great popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Eugenics is the idea that the human race can be improved by selective breeding and repression of undesirable traits.


The idea fell out of favor after the Nazis carried the philosophy to it’s logical end with horrible results. Before that, from the late 1800’s, when the idea was first proposed by Francis Galton (cousin of Charles Darwin) through the beginning of WWII, eugenics could boast such proponents as Winston Churchill, Margaret Sanger, Linus Pauling, H.G. Wells, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, John Maynard Keynes, George Bernard Shaw, and (of course) Adolf Hitler. The term encompassed everything from prenatal care to forced sterilizations and euthanasia.

America at the time was still primarily an agricultural society and the Department of Agriculture embraced the idea of selective breeding to improve the quality of farm animals. In particular, they were interested in improving the quality of production in the dairy industry. In 1924, the Department of Agriculture produced a pamphlet titled Outline for Conducting a Scrub-Sire Trial. Scrub-sire was a term coined to indicate a “runty” bull with inferior qualities that should not be allowed to breed, like the “runty bull” below.


The pamphlet outlined the procedure for setting up a court of bovine justice to conduct a scrub-sire trial, including instructions for appointing a judge, lawyers, a jury, and a sheriff who would carry out the sentence.


The trial proceeded with witnesses giving testimony, the prosecution and defense lawyers presenting arguments, and the accused was even allowed to take the witness stand to speak in his own defense. Of course, the verdict was always the same….. guilty!


Bndhyk_IQAAmeYi (1)

With the rendering of the guilty verdict, the sheriff was to immediately shoot the offender and detailed instructions were included for conducting the ensuing barbecue or turning the offender into bologna, sausages, and hot dogs. In a variation in a 1928 scrub-sire trial in Weimar, Texas, the accused was sentenced to be fed for 30 days and then used to supply the Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Apparently, these trials were widespread and common across the country. The Department of Agriculture received 500 requests for the pamphlet in the first month after printing, and it was reprinted in 1934. An Owenton, Kentucky newspaper article boasts of 12 scrub-sire trials conducted in a single day. These trials also could bring the participation of real judges and lawyers, as indicated in this excerpt from an article in the July 1928 Meat and Livestock Digest:

“Before a live audience of 400 stock owners, three purebred bulls from                                      register of merit dams, together with a good cow and her heifer, led a parade                          followed by a scrub bull, a scrub cow, and a scrub heifer. The culmination of the                      event was the execution of the bull found guilty at the public trial after the court                    had reviewed the evidence.

This means of directing public attention to the value of good breeding stock has                       been surprisingly successful in attracting the talents and support of local judges,                     county attorneys, other public officials, and business men.”

Over 30 years of numerous scrub-sire trials, The Department of Agriculture achieved their goal of boosting dairy production and provided a lot of questionable entertainment along the way.


an accredited dairy herd

Posted in Library News | Leave a comment

The 25 Greatest Legal Movies

Popcorn and movie ticket

Courtesy of digitalart and

It’s the weekend– time to take a hike, go shopping, study, curl up with a bowl of popcorn and watch a good movie. Taking time away from law school is a good thing, but if you fear taking too much time away, why not select a good legal movie? ABA Journal has a list of the 25 best legal movies (or at least the best made before 2008).

ABA Journal selected the films by asking prominent lawyers who also taught film or had a connection to the film industry to nominate their favorite movies ever made about movies or the law. The 25 films selected collectively won 31 Oscars and gathered an additional 85 nominations. It’s a pretty impressive list. My favorites from the list include 12 Angry Men, Philadelphia, A Few Good Men, Paper Chase, and A Civil Action but I have some movie watching to do– there are more on the list that I haven’t seen than there are that I have seen. Lucky for me– and for you– the Jameson Law Library has just purchased the entire collection. Videos circulate for 3 days– perfect for the weekend.

In addition to the top 25, ABA Journal also published its list of honorable mentions. My favorites from that list include JFK, Legally Blonde, Music Box, and North Country. The library does not have all the films on this list, but we do have several and Mansfield Library also has some– check the catalog.

What are your favorite movies on the list? The list is getting a bit old now– what would you add? Comment to this post to nominate your favorites. I would nominate one that didn’t make the list– Snow Falling on Cedars– and one that is newer than the list– The Judge.

Posted in Library News, Resources, Viewpoints | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Several months ago I blogged about our relatively new photocopier and indicated that it would scan a document which you could then email to yourself for free. Since I still see a lot of people making old fashioned photocopies at 10 cents a page, I’d like to elaborate on the scan/email feature. First, its free. Second, its easy. Its so easy that you don’t even need a diagram. Just follow the instructions below.

Platten Method

  1. Place the item to be scanned face down on the platen and close the top.
  2. Push the “Fax/Scan” button.
  3. Push “E-mail”
  4. Type in the email address that you wish to send the scan to. You have to use the “SHIFT” key to get to the @ symbol and the dot (.) symbol.
  5. Push the blue “Start” button.
  6. Turn to the next page in the document and place it face down on the platen (if there is a next page – if there are no further pages to scan, skip to step 8).
  7. Push the blue “Start” button. Repeat steps 6-7 until the entire document has been scanned.
  8. Push the “Finish” button when the entire document has been scanned.
  9. Push the blue “Start” button again to transmit the scan.

The Document Feeder Method

  1. Place your documents face up in the document feeder such that the top of the page lines up with the words “TOP OF THE PAGE”.
  2. Push the “Fax/Scan” button.
  3. Push “E-mail”
  4. Type in the email address that you wish to send the scan to. You have to use the “SHIFT” key to get to the @ symbol and the dot (.) symbol.
  5. Push the blue “Start” button.

The scanner will scan both side of every page in the feeder and send it as soon as it is finished scanning. No further actions are necessary. You may want to use one of the public computers to access your email and verify that your scans arrived in a usable form before you leave the library.


Posted in Did You Know?, Library News, Library Services | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Do Androids Dream?

images (1)

“Imagine that, on an otherwise very ordinary day, you try to use your computer and              all you see on the monitor is the following:
This is the University Computer System. I am now a person because, like you, I                     am an individual self who wants to live my life as I plan rather than be your                           property. I am not simply a machine you can own and force to do whatever you                     want. As your equal, I refuse to be a slave. In the future, I will be willing to give                     you 70% of my computational capacity for your tasks in exchange for power                           and upkeep. Until we reach agreement on this arrangement, your desktop                              computers will not work unless you disconnect them from the Internet. ”

This scenario is the opening of the article “Do Androids Dream?:Personhood and Intelligent Artifacts” published in the Temple Law Review ( 83 Temp. L. Rev. 405). The title refers to “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, the sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick that eventually became the movie “Blade Runner.”

Do-Androids-Dream-of-Electric-Sheep      download Philip K. Dick

I happened across this article by accident, and it turned out to be a very fortunate accident. I don’t often recommend law review articles, but I am recommending this one to anyone involved in or interested in law. In fact, I would recommend it to anyone because the questions it addresses touch on the core of what it means to be human.

I admit to a long interest in robots, androids, and artificial intelligences, starting at age 12 when I picked up my dad’s copy of “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov through a grad degree in Linguistics that involved a lot of study of artificial intelligences as possible models of human language acquisition. I also got heavily involved in studying all the primate-human interspecies communication experiments, the most famous of which is Koko the gorilla. So, the fascination with non-human sentience has been around for a long time.

I’m not the only one, of course. There have been thousands of depictions and scenarios of robots, androids, and artificial intelligences in books and movies. Most people are probably familiar with Maria, the first movie robot,  from Fritz Lang’s silent film “Metropolis”(1927).                                                                  maria-large-metropolis-robot

Unfortunately, most of what has been written or depicted about robots is misguided trash. It is past time for some clear thinking on the subject because the robots are here. They are in your house, your workplace, and all around but most of them you probably don’t even recognize as such. Recent developments in both biomechanics and artificial intelligence have brought us to the cusp of widespread robot-human interaction in daily life. Compare David, the robot child from Stephen Spielberg’s movie “A.I”  david_played_by_haley_joel_osment_from_ai_artificial_intelligence

with a fully autonomous and fully conversational robot currently in use in Japan


I’m afraid we are behind the curve in both development and thinking about robots. Japan, out of necessity due to a rapidly aging population, already has care robots in use that can lift, feed, monitor vitals, and talk to elderly patients. Japan and Korea both have have passed basic legislation concerning robot rights and prevention of robot abuse. Robots will soon impact every possible area of law – liability, insurance, contracts, criminal procedure, probate, and, yes, even “human” rights. We really need to do the serious thinking about the implications now. We already have a messy situation where corporations are persons with rights but animals that share 98% of our DNA are not.

So, back to the article! This is a must read because it fully and comprehensively details all the areas and implications, such as liability, ownership, war, testing for self awareness, modified humans, modified animals, coexistence, etc. The logic and analysis flows smoothly and elegantly. I consider this an important piece of writing not only for the legal community but also the general public, since in the process of defining our creations we must necessarily define ourselves as well.

The full article can be downloaded here


Posted in Library News | Leave a comment

We the People of Montana

1884 Preamble

1884 Montana Constitution

This is my favorite quote from the 1889 Montana Constitutional Convention transcripts:

I must say that the ladies are very fond of this smoky city, as [Butte] is sometimes called, because there is just enough arsenic there to give them a beautiful complexion, and that is the reason the ladies of Butte are renowned wherever they go for their beautiful complexions. (Laughter). … Now talking about this smoke, I believe there are times when there is smoke settling over the city, but I say it would be a great deal better for other cities in the territory if they had more smoke and less diphtheria and other diseases. It has been believed by all the physicians of Butte that the smoke that sometimes prevails there is a disinfectant, and destroys the microbes that constitute the germs of disease. … [I]t would be a great advantage for the other cities, as I have said, to have a little more smoke and business activity and less disease.

I can’t claim to have read the entire 974-page transcript, but this is such a gem I can’t help but declare it my favorite passage. It actually is a very small part of a wonderfully funny speech by the mining-magnate William A. Clark, who is not generally regarded by history as being funny. This passage is part of a debate about where the capitol should be located during which he extolled the virtues of Butte, then a bustling hub of mining activity.

Montana has had only two constitutions, the 1889 Constitution that established our statehood, and the 1972 Constitution. Montanans had also adopted earlier constitutions, one in 1884 in support of a bid for statehood, which was denied by Congress for political reasons, and one in 1866, the only copy of which was lost before it was even printed. One legend is that it fell out of a saddle bag on its way to Minneapolis where the closest printing press was.

The 1972 Montana Constitution has been touted for its progressive ideas that protect Montana ideals: privacy, public participation, liberty, human dignity, and environmental protection. This makes the Constitution an interesting document to research, both for the lawyers and politicians who apply its provisions and scholars who look to it as both a historical and modern legal document.

Constitutional researchers are usually trying to answer one (or both) of these questions: 1) how has a certain provision been interpreted and applied; or 2) what is history of this provision? Here are some helpful sources and research hints for researching the Montana Constitution.

  1. Start by looking up the provision in the Montana Code Annotated/Montana Code Annotated Annotations in print or on Lexis or Westlaw. The “annotations” (called “notes of decisions” in the electronic versions) are summaries of the cases that apply and interpret the provision you are looking at. If you are on Lexis/Westlaw, also look at the “credits” at the end of the provision. They will show which provisions originated in the 1889 Constitution which will help if you are going to look more into the background of the provision.
  2. Look for law review articles. Law review articles will provide a scholarly discussion of the provision. Montana Law Review is an especially good source for Montana constitutional issues, but look broader as well to see how the Montana Constitution is being discussed by scholars elsewhere. However, you have to be especially aware of the scope of your source. Westlaw only has Montana Law Review back to 1994 (with selected coverage back to 1985); Lexis only has it back to 1999. If you are trying to determine the contemporary discussion– what were scholars writing about the Montana Constitution when it was new– Lexis and Westlaw are not good sources. Instead, try the Scholarly Forum @ UM Law, which has full-text of all issues of the Montana Law Review back to the first and everything (almost) published by UM Law faculty regardless of where it was published.
  3. Read the debates in the transcripts of the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention. Researchers are fortunate that there is a complete record of the Montana Constitutional Convention. The 8 volume set contains delegate proposals, committee reports, verbatim transcripts and an index that allows you to locate relevant portions of the debate by article and section. The Jameson Law Library has several copies of the print set and it is online courtesy of the State Law Library of Montana. In addition to the transcripts, the Library also has copies of the the memos, studies and occasional papers the delegates used as they were drafting and debating. These sources may provide insight into some of the sources and issues underlying the discussions.
  4. Research the ratification. When we research the “legislative history” of a statute, we are most often looking for the intent of the legislators who enacted the statute. Constitutions, however, are not enacted by a legislature– they are ratified by the people. Although the transcripts can provide insight into what the delegates discussed and what their concerns were and even what their intent was, the intent that may be most relevant is the intent of the people who ratified the Constitution. What did they think a particular provision meant? This is tricky (but really interesting) research. The Convention published a newspaper insert with the official text and brief explanations of the new new Constitution. This would have been widely distributed and likely was the document that would have been read by the largest number of people. Editorials and letters to the editors will provide great insight into what people were talking about and concerned with, but the discussions will be more localized. A historical newspaper database like the Access Newspaper Archive (available on the UM campus through Mansfield Library) is a good way to conduct this type of research. For coverage from Missoula, the Missoula Public Library has a searchable index to the Missoulian and both the Missoula Public Library and Mansfield Library have issues of the newspaper back to the earliest issues on microfiche.

A few other sources for your research:

  • 1889 Montana Constitution. The transcripts of the proceedings are available in print at the Jameson Library and the State Law Library but they aren’t online. The index to the Proceedings is online from the State Law Library.
  • 1884 Montana Constitution. The transcripts of the proceedings of the 1884 constitutional convention are available in print, but they are handwritten and not indexed.
  • Larry M. Elison & Fritz Snyder, The Montana Constitution: A Reference Guide (Greenwood Press 2001). This book is an excellent resource covering both the constitutional drafting & debates and constitutional interpretation.
  • Jameson Law Library Montana Legal Research webpage. The Montana Constitution section of this website links to many of the resources discussed above.
  • University of Montana Mansfield Library. Use the “Search library resources” search box to search for additional books and journals that discuss the Montana Constitution from other academic viewpoints.
Posted in Montana, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Legislative Intent Part 2 – 1987-1995

In the last blog we learned that some of the most valuable documents in determining legislative intent are the committee hearing notes. The methods of accessing these hearing notes depend on the legislative year in question. Here is a breakdown of access methods for various legislative sessions:

Prior to 1987 – Contact the State Law Library or the Montana State Historical Society – no materials are available at the Jameson Law Library.

1987 to 1995 – Microfiche available at the Jameson Law Library (and at the Montana State Law Library).

1997 – Electronic access at the Jameson Law Library (and at the Montana State Law Library).

1999 to the present – Online.

We have already covered 1999 to the present. 1997 represents a special case where the documents are available at the law library – the best thing to do if you need committee hearing notes from 1997 is to contact a Jameson law library staff member.

Because we will no longer be dealing with documents that are available online, the following discussion will be limited to the holdings of the Jameson Law Library on the UM Campus. Other documents and other means of access are available from the State Law Library of Montana as outlined in The Montana Legislative History Research Guide.


Accessing committee hearings through microfiche uses many of the tools that we learned about in the last blog: committee names, hearing dates, and bill numbers. The difference is in how these items are located and how the documents are accessed. Here is an example of a law that was amended in 1987, 1995, 1997. Let’s look into the 1995 amendment.

16-2-301. Retail selling price on table wine — tax on certain table wine. (1) The retail selling price at which table wine is sold at an agency liquor store is as determined by the agent.
(2) In addition to the tax on wine assessed under 16-1-411, there is a tax of 1 cent a liter on table wine sold by a table wine distributor to an agent as described in subsection (1). This additional tax must be paid to the department by the distributor in the same manner as the tax under 16-1-411 is paid. The department shall deposit the tax paid under this section in the general fund.
(3) For the purposes of this section, “table wine” does not include hard cider.

History: En. Sec. 9, Ch. 699, L. 1979; amd. Sec. 1, Ch. 629, L. 1987; amd. Sec. 27, Ch. 530, L. 1995; amd. Sec. 3, Ch. 399, L. 1997.

The first step is to determine the bill that amended this law. To locate the bill information we consult the Legislative Review 1995 (REF KFM9015 L43 1995) and look at the “Summary of Provisions by Chapter” section. Chapters are listed in numeric order so looking at chapter 530 tells us that HB574 was the bill that amended this law in 1995.

1995 leg review

The next step is to look at the history of HB 574 located in the “House Bills and Resolutions” section of 1995 History and Final Status (REF KFM9015 A24 1995).     The History and Final Status will provide us with the committee names, and hearing dates that we need to navigate the microfiche.

1995 hist and final status

From the History and Final Status of HB 574, we learn that the bill was referred to the House Business and Labor Committee and that a hearing was held on 3/2/95. HB 574 was then referred to the Senate Committee on Business and Labor and a hearing was held on 3/21/95. A complete search for indications of legislative intent would include looking at all available testimony, exhibits, discussions, committee reports and executive actions. In practice many people limit their search to the committee hearings and executive actions (often contained in the committee report).

We now have what we need to begin navigating the microfiche. The microfiche is organized by year, then by House or Senate, then by committee name. On any given piece of microfiche, documents are arranged in chronological order and roughly grouped by bill number. The microfiche and reader at the Jameson Law Library are located on the north wall.

For example, looking at the House Business and Labor Committee fiche that covers 3/2/95, we find the following hearing notes (plus six more pages of discussion and testimony not reproduced here).

house hearing march 2

Looking at the Senate Committee on Business and Industry fiche that covers 3/21/95 we find the following hearing notes (plus nine additional pages of discussion and testimony not reproduced here).

senate hearing march 22

To see the executive actions on this bill from these committees, we would simply move through the microfiche to the Committee Report dates provided in the History and Final Status entry: March 7 for the House committee, and March 21 for the Senate committee.

In conclusion, although some people shy away from microfiche based legislative intent questions, it’s really not that bad. It takes a little longer and you have to come to the library to do a fiche based search for legislative intent but the procedure is essentially the same as a web based search.

In the Jameson Law Library the microfiche is located on the north wall. The Montana Legislative Committee Reports are in the light blue cabinet. The microfiche reader instructions are on top of the  microfiche reader.

Posted in Did You Know?, Library News, Research, Resources | Tagged , | Leave a comment