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Artful Passage of Montana Senate Bill 29
(Senator Lynda Bourque Moss)

A legislative session seems an unlikely setting for liberation. It is exceptionally difficult to pass a bill that mandates new behavior. Much less a bill that ignites the passions of industry and advocacy groups regarding alcohol sales.

Enter Senator Lynda Moss who guided passage of Montana Senate Bill 29: Responsible Alcohol Sales and Service Act. Lynda inherited a very complicated bill that was part of an effort to address DUIs (driving under the influence of alcohol). Many states are working on the same challenge.

Lynda opined, “Mandatory bills are seen as negative and can be killed by invoking ‘too much government.’ Plus, the liquor industry is very powerful. They can make or break legislation.”

Key constituent groups often see the challenge from different perspectives. For this bill, Lynda convened conversations with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the gambling association, the taverns association, the restaurant association, convenience stores owners, the Montana Highway Patrol and the Department of Revenue (overseeing taxing and distribution of alcohol in Montana). Two Liberating Structures helped guide Lynda along the way to passage: Appreciative Interviews and Min Specs.

Lynda started with Appreciative Interviews: “Most legislation is grounded in existing law. You amend by adding or deleting. For SB 29, nothing in the law was used as reference. Rather, I asked ‘What do we need to do?’ and ‘What works now?’”

This sparked engagement and unleashed a set of appreciative stories.

Each constituent group knew the challenge inside out. They offered their part of what worked to prevent alcohol-related travesties. The organizations selling alcohol were held liable for accidents. MADD mothers lost children and family members. State agencies picked up the pieces. The people serving and selling alcohol lost needed jobs. Lynda tapped the experience and imagination of everyone at the table.

 Let It Happen, Don’t Make It Happen

Lynda recalls, “Unlikely parties came together: all the amendments came from them, not me. I was more a facilitator than a law-MAKER.”

For Lynda, the stories also revealed Min Specs: the must- and must-not do’s for everyone to share responsibility for preventing DUIs. First, she learned that training for servers and sellers must be mandatory, including personal fines and the threat of license revocation for the employer. This would reduce liability premiums and give the legislation teeth. Second, the requirements for servers must be reasonable, respectful and flexible. Part-time workers needed their training certificates to be transferable as they changed jobs. Third, servers and sellers truly need to learn how to say “no.” The core behavior and social skills needed to do the job were not trivial or widely practiced.

In the last hour before the final vote, a threat popped up. All the work could have been lost.

Surprisingly, a group of senate staffers not directly involved stepped forward with support. Why? Lynda suspects it had everything to do with the very inclusive approach used to create SB 29. This legislation was something new, emerging from all the constituents’ voices.

Lynda is an artist with an MFA (masters of fine arts). She brings an intuitive sensibility to her work in the legislature and heading up a regional foundation. The community is her “palette.” Lynda feels that LS give more shape and depth to how we relate. “LS tap familiar and universal patterns.” She muses that LS are akin to a mobius strip, a never-ending cycle of wondering, noticing and reflecting which draws out something new.


 The Ecocycle icon is an image of a mobius strip. If a spider were to walk along the length of this strip, it would return to its starting point having traversed every part of the strip (on both sides of the surface) without ever crossing an edge.