What does “legislative intent” mean? Generally it refers to what the legislature meant or intended when they passed a law and specifically it refers to what the committee members of the House or Senate said when they discussed a bill before it became a law.
The method of accessing documents that help determine legislative intent varies depending on the year that a law was enacted or amended. Part 1 of our series on legislative intent will cover 1999 to 2015.
In the Montana Code Annotated the history of each statute is provided at the end of the statute. We are told when the law was enacted and when, if ever, it was amended.
For example, imagine that we wanted to know about the legislative intent of MT 39-2-904. Here is the statute as it appears in the Montana Code Annotated:
39-2-904. Elements of wrongful discharge — presumptive probationary period. (1) A discharge is wrongful only if:
(a) it was in retaliation for the employee’s refusal to violate public policy or for reporting a violation of public policy;
(b) the discharge was not for good cause and the employee had completed the employer’s probationary period of employment; or
(c) the employer violated the express provisions of its own written personnel policy.
(2) (a) During a probationary period of employment, the employment may be terminated at the will of either the employer or the employee on notice to the other for any reason or for no reason.
(b) If an employer does not establish a specific probationary period or provide that there is no probationary period prior to or at the time of hire, there is a probationary period of 6 months from the date of hire.
History: En. Sec. 4, Ch. 641, L. 1987; amd. Sec. 2, Ch. 583, L. 2001
The history is provided at the bottom of the statute. It tells us that the law was originally enacted in 1987 and amended in 2001. Specifically it was amended in Section 2, of Chapter 583 of Laws of Montana 2001. We will focus on the legislative intent of the 2001 amendment. The crucial things to catch here are the chapter number and the year. With these two items we can find the bill number, the committee name, dates of the hearing and, usually but not always, the committee meeting notes. From 1999 to the current year this information will be online. The easiest way to proceed through the next few sections is to open two browser windows: one to follow the links and one to read my instructions. Here’s how it works.
First take note of the year and chapter (2001, chapter 583). Go to the Montana legislature website .
and click on “Session”, then “Past Sessions”
Now select “Look Up Bill Information” from the very top of the page.
At this page you can enter the chapter number that you noted earlier (chapter 583).
The result of searching for chapter 583 is a new page that provides the history on the bill that amended the original law. What you will need from this page are the bill name, the committee names, and the committee hearing dates. In our current example we are looking at the history of Senate Bill 4 (SB 4).
Although there are many links on this page, none will take you to the transcribed committee hearing notes – Although beginning in 2011, there is a link on this page that will take you to the audio/visual versions of the committee hearings. The critical items to get from this page are the bill number (SB4), the committee name (Senate Conference Committee), and the hearing dates (3/23/2001 and 4/19/2001). Note that there was also a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on January 8, 2001 and a House Judiciary Committee hearing on March 1, 2001.
We have clicked through many screens to get these three vital facts : the names of the committees, the hearing dates, and the bill number.
Now with these three facts we can return to the 2001 Regular Session Homepage
Now we click on the link “Committee Minutes”
All that remains is to scroll down to “Conference Committees” and then select “Senate Conference Committees”. Then click on “SB 4 –March 23” to access the committee meeting notes. There is also a Senate Conference Committee hearing entry for April 19. Lastly, check the Senate and House Judiciary Committees on the dates noted above (January 8, 2001 and March 1, 2001) to see how these committees dealt with SB4.
This brings part 1 to a conclusion. In part 2 we will look at accessing documents that may indicate legislative intent from 1987-1997.