So you consider yourself a well-informed person, generally aware of current events and politics in Montana. You read the newspaper, check out online articles, follow some blogs, and even check in on the Montana Legislature from time to time. But you have this nagging feeling like you might have the opportunity to do more, to get involved, to become part of the process which hands down the rules and regulations that control some of your everyday experiences. After doing a bit of research, you discover that while the Legislature writes the broad laws, the real grunt work of the daily administration of those laws is performed by various executive agencies usually operating under Departments, such as the Department of Revenue and the Department of Justice. These agencies, acting in both legislative and judicial functions, help implement the laws through rule making and adjudication. As part of that process, the agencies regularly ask for input from interested parties and the public in general. But how do you know what’s being proposed, how and where to comment, and what decisions have been made? The good news is you don’t have to look far for a centralized location to investigate and become involved. Welcome to the Administrative Rules of Montana tab on the Montana Secretary of State Website.
Okay, 5 white tabs and 10 tan tabs — that’s a lot of tabs. Luckily, the first tan tab contains answers to FAQs and is filled with helpful information to assist orienting you to the site. For example, you can learn about relationship between the Administrative Rules of Montana (ARM) and the Montana Administrative Register (MAR), the timetable for adoption of new rules by the various state agencies, and a get an explanation of ARM citations. Be sure you don’t miss the visual guide to the rule adoption process under Resources on the FAQ page (click on image to enlarge).
Feeling confident that you have the general idea of what you’re looking at, you decide it’s time to explore the site and learn what’s happening with these agencies. You start with the white tabs — specifically the ARM and MAR tabs on the left.
Having read the FAQ, you know it makes sense to start with the ARM and MAR tabs because of the relationship between them. You know that the ARM contains all the existing rules and that the MAR is a twice-monthly publication for proposed rules, amendments and other pending agency action that will or won’t become part of the ARM depending on the outcome of their particular processes. Aside from the usual straightforward search functions, which allow you to search by text or by rule, chapter, title, or MCA (Montana Code Annotated) number, one section is worth highlighting. Under the ARM section, click on the circled Go button to the left of “By Department, Chapter, and Rules Table of Contents.”
After opening this link, a useful table of contents appears that contains all the current agency rules organized by Department — helpful if you know the Department name and the type of rule you are looking for, or if you just want to browse a particular Agency. For instance, click on Title 36 (Department of Natural Resources & Conservation) and then on Chapter 36.2 (Procedural Rules). Notice in the screenshot below that you can click on the rule links to view in full text or you can use your browser’s ctrl-F function to search the language of the title of rules. You can even click on the “View as eBook” feature to open a user friendly layout with the same information.
Browse back to the main search page for now. Look under the MAR section. In the screenshot below, note the hyperlinks within the red highlighted section — this is the easiest way to find the newest issue of the MAR. Also, if you want to locate past issues, say to look for proposed rules that may not have been adopted, click the second link, “Archived Issues.”
Go ahead and click on the most recent issue link — 2014#7. As you see below, the MAR is neatly organized into a Notice Section, a Rule Section, an Interpretation Section, and a Special Notice and Table Section. As you scan through and read the summaries observe that some are notices for public hearings while others are notices that an agency has made a proposal to amend or repeal and existing agency rule.
If you click on the hyperlink under the Notice No. column, you can view the actual language of the notice. For example, below is the Notice of Public Hearing regarding amendment of the Montana regulation relating to the maximum pricing and printing standards.
- date and location of the hearing
- information for accommodations of persons with disabilities
- the rule language
- information for submitting written or oral comments
- the agency staff conducting the hearing
- other administrative information and hyperlinks to relevant existing rules or the Montana Code Annotated
Proposed rule change notices follow a similar format. However, a public hearing is not always required. It may happen only under certain conditions as specified in the notice itself, such as request from a certain number of person directly affected by the pending agency action. For an example, click on Notice No. 32-14-245 and look over paragraph 6.
Rule Notices are much more concise and contain the relevant rule numbers, whether or not a public hearing happened, whether comments were received (they aren’t always), and the resulting agency response and action taken regarding the rule.
The Interpretation Section gives you a glimpse into one of the ways agencies act in a judicial function, when they interpret the rules of the Enabling Acts (the initial rules for the agency as written by the Montana Legislature), or the rules they’ve promulgated post agency formation. For instance, in one particular ruling, 38-Declaratory Ruling D2014.1.9, the affected party wanted the term “controlling interest” interpreted a certain way. However, the agency declined to do so and issued its own interpretation. The affected party may apply for judicial review outside the agency, but significant deference is usually given to agency decisions.
That’s the MAR in a nutshell. Browsing back to the main page, the remaining three white tabs are worth mentioning briefly.
- Emergency Rule Notices — contain rules adopted by various agencies without notice to meet some imminent concern, such as closures of rivers or bridges.
- Secretary of State Rule Notices — rules regarding the Secretary of State agency itself.
- Tools for State Agencies — provide executive agencies with links for filing, templates, glossaries, and other information to ensure the rule making process conforms to approved standards.
Although the information above really forms the substance of the Administrative section of the Secretary of State website, some of the tan tabs under Additional Resources, aside from the FAQ tab already discussed, merit brief mention.
- Agency Title Numbers is really just a different way to get to the same place as the search by Department mentioned above — with one less click.
- The Deadlines tab provides the dates by which agencies or interested parties must file in order to get into the next publication of MAR. The deadline is usually 10 days before publication date.
- The Review Committee tab outlines which committees are responsible for viewing various agency actions, making recommendations, interacting with the Montana Legislature, and other monitoring and evaluation functions. For example, the Law and Justice Committee provides these services for the Department of Corrections and the Department of Justice.
- The Board Appointments and Board Vacancies tabs take you to the same place. Click on links by month and year to help keep track of changes in positions with the Boards of the agencies. You can also access a searchable database of appointments and vacancies at the Boards & Councils site — it’s the same information, but presented in a more organized drop down menu format.
This overview should give you enough information to get involved with and become part of the Administrative Rule Making Process in Montana. With just a few clicks you can stay informed of pending public hearings, proposed rule changes, adopted rules, agency judicial decisions, and more. And if you really want to take that next step, you can finding existing or future vacancies in an agency and perhaps begin the process of officially becoming part of the Administrative machine.