As of October 1, “[t]he soil series known as Scobey, of the taxonomic class fine, smectitic, frigid Aridic Argiustolls, is the official Montana state soil.” Also as of yesterday, Montana’s new hard-won bullying statute finally took effect. However, if you don’t have your own print copy of the Montana Code Annotated or have access to a library with a print copy, you may not know that because even though most laws passed by the 2015 Montana Legislature went into effect yesterday, yesterday there were no available electronic versions of the 2015 Montana Code Annotated (MCA). Today, Lexis and Bloomberg Law have the updated code. Westlaw and Fastcase still have the previous code, but they at least link to the updates– a good interim step between the end of the legislative session in April and the publication of the new code in October, though it’s not ideal and hopefully won’t be the status quo for long. Inexplicably, Montana Legislative Services, the publisher of the MCA, still has the 2014 MCA without even an indication that statutes may be out of date. The print versions of the 2015 MCA have been sitting on shelves for a couple weeks. The online version is usually published simultaneous to, if not before, the print version so it is a surprise that is has not yet been posted– a disappointing surprise.
Given that there is free print access to the MCA and at least some electronic access, this post may seem unnecessarily grouchy. But Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg Law and Fastcase all require that researchers have a subscription. They are excellent research services, but most Montanans cannot access them. Although the Montana Legislative Services online version is not an official version of the MCA, it is a reliable version and is virtually the only access many Montana citizens have to the laws that govern them. There is no requirement that the Code Commissioner publish the online version, but there is a policy argument to be made that without the online version, Montanans constitutional right to participate and right to now are not given full effect.
The legislature doesn’t just pass laws for the sake of passing them, nor does Legislative Services publish them just because the legislature passed them. Laws affect people’s lives. The MCA is published because people really do need access to the laws. Publication of the MCA should not be the goal; providing access to the MCA to the citizens of Montana should be the goal.