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Billings City Council legislative focus is on public safety

Posted at 11:21 PM, Mar 06, 2023

BILLINGS - Billings city leaders are hoping lawmakers in Helena can push through legislation this session to help with crime.

The city council received an update on what's happening in the Montana legislature.

The council's priority centers on bills that help with public safety.

A lot of cities around the state look at Billings to see how well some of these laws work.

"Do you know the status of the bill on the sober living homes?" Mayor Bill Cole asked during a city council work session on Monday.

The sober living bill is among the city's priorities.

"We as a city have established since I've been on council, three years now, that public safety is our priority," said council member Pam Purinton. "And it was that way before I even came on council."

Senate Bill 94 is one of the bills the City Council supports. It would require sober living houses to maintain certain standards and become certified through a nonprofit organization.

State Sen. Barry Usher says the bill would allow felons to live together.

"People come in mostly coming out of Department of Corrections, or they may be on parole or probation, living in the same house, trying to be peer support for each other," said State Sen. Barry Usher, R-Billings. "Hence the name sober living."

Keith Jordan co-owns Sober Beginnings, an organization that operates six homes in Billings, told Q2 last week that he is concerned about the bill.

“I feel that anytime you have something good like that and it is running well, and then government gets into it, you have a huge chance of ruining the whole thing,” Jordan said.

Usher is a majority whip and vice-chair of the Senate judiciary committee.

The city is also looking at other bills that Usher has sponsored.

"I'm a retailer in my real job and people know that they could steal $1,499 know police would not respond," Usher said. "They will not show up. They would not take a report because it was non-arrestable, non-jailable. And the fine was only $500."

Senate Bill 95 would change that by modifying a 2017 bill.

Senate Bill 96 deals with the persistent felony offender.

"If you're already out on probation on a charge or if you're out on bond on a charge, it can help consolidate those charges and get somebody who's a persistent felon put away instead of waiting around for all these other cases to clear up," Usher said.

Three former billings city council members now serving in the legislature also gave updates. State Rep. Larry Brewster,R-Billngs, State Rep. Mike Yakawich, R-Billings, and State Sen. Chris Friedel, R-Billings.

The city's lobbyists from the Crowly Fleck law firm also gave an update.

Legislators say if a law works for Billings, it will work for many other cities around the state.

"Billings is definitely the place to look to find out what we need to do for the rest of the state," Usher said.

Usher said some of the opposition to the bills include the ACLU.

Purinton says the bills that the city council supports are bi-partisan.

"Need to have a sense of community, community compassion, but also of accountability and responsibility to each other," Purinton said.