BILLINGS — Former Billings City Council Member Brent Cromley voiced his support for a Billings non-discrimination ordinance (NDO), from the other side of the podium Monday night.
Cromley also rebuked arguments against a NDO during public comment.
A NDO is a law designed to prevent discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of race, creed, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Cromley correlated Billings seemingly stagnant population growth in the last two years with the city's lack of a NDO.
“I think that Billings needs to pass an NDO before it becomes the only city over 100,000 people that accepts the discrimination of the LGBTQ," Cromley said.
Cromley cited the Billings Facilities Master Plan conducted in 2015, saying Billings was expected to grow 1.8 percent annually. It was estimated in 2015 the population in Billings would reach 123,000 by 2020.
Cromley cited the U.S. Census Bureau's estimated population for Billings in 2014 at 108,458 and in 2018 at 109,550. Between 2014 and 2018, the average growth rate was 0.25 percent, or one sixth of what was predicted, Cromley said.
In 2016 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated 109,654 people living in Billings. In 2018 the estimate was 109,550 people lived in Billings. The average growth rate between 2016 and 2018.
Cromley compared average population growth rates of Billings to other major Montana cities in his presentation. He concluded Billings and Great Falls, the only cities on the list without NDO's, were seeing their population drop.
"Billings is lagging behind other cities,” Cromley said.
Cromley just ended his second term as Billings Ward 1 representative at the beginning of the year. He introduced a NDO to the council in Sept. 2019, but later withdrew after speaking with members of the LGBTQ community.
Council Member Penny Ronning introduced a NDO with similar language to Cromley's last week.
Cromley gave his take on arguments against the NDO. One of them being that the NDO passing would create more cases for the court system and bog it down.
"Not true. In all the Montana cities, they have 30 years of experience, there have not been any complaints filled. And that's generally the experience around the country. So, why pass an NDO? Because it's a matter of perception, it would give the statement that Billings does not discriminate," Cromley said.
Another argument against a NDO is that it is not needed because there is no discrimination happening in Billings.
"If you heard the testimony in 2014, you know that's not the case," Cromley said.
A previous iteration of the NDO turned into one of the most contentious debates in recent memory at the Billings City Council. In August 2014, after weeks of debate meetings lasting into the early morning hours, the Billings City Council voted 6-5 against a NDO. Then-Mayor Tom Hannel cast the deciding vote, saying the city wasn't ready.
In 2014, people cited religious reasons for their opposition to a NDO. Cromley had something for that argument too.
"Nothing in the ordinance requires you to associate with a particular person. It is only in public services, employment, and public accommodations that it's involved and churches are exempt,” Cromley said.
On Feb. 24, the council will vote whether to put the NDO up for adoption in Mar. 23.
To read the draft ordinance that Ronning submitted to the Council, click here.