On Friday morning at 7am, democrats in the legislature succeeded in forcing GOP leadership to reverse their edict that legal memos detailing constitutional problems with bills be removed from the public LAWS website.
In 2013, the MT legislature, through its official Legislative Council made a bi-partisan decision to make the legal review notes created by legislative staff and attorneys public documents. Every bill undergoes a legal review, and if there are potential problems with the US or federal constitution and other major case laws there was a memo created and those documents were public.
But in 2015, the GOP leadership of the legislature directed its staff to take those documents–and any references to them in the LAWS system–down from the website . Instead, the GOPers told their staff to keep them in the offices of the legislative staff where most citizens will never see them, and even require members of the public to sign them out when they ask to see the public documents so that the GOP leaders could know who was looking for them. The GOP is very “pro-privacy” when it comes to themselves, but when it comes to what you do, they must know, you see.
Thes Republicans apparently don’t want the public–or the press–to know if their bills have constitutional problems. This is counter to democracy and good government.
Even legislative staff noted that they had been asked if there were legal review notes in committees, only to have GOP leadership get angry that the staff had answered honestly that such a note exists. Rep. Essmann (R-TEA Billings) expressed his personal belief that if a law was passed by the legislature, it simply was constitutional just because the legislature passed it, until a court challenged the law.
Anyway you can see why democrats complained that the notes had been hidden and removed from the website, and the legislative council on Friday morning, January 30, passed a motion to reiterate that the documents needed to be public again – as the legislative council had already affirmed – with some additional language clarifying for legislators what legal review means. Sen. Session also asked that the GOP leaders in the future not make unilateral decisions, but take them to the legislative council, which is the process set up for managing legislative staff. The change was made Friday am as part of a Legislative Council committee meeting.