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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Public Intoxication Bill Dies In House Committee

Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez
Montana Legislature

A bill intended to deal with public intoxication appears to have died in a House committee. It was brought on behalf of the City of Billings. The bill was killed despite unanimous support for several amendments that sought to clarify its intent.

Among other provisions, the main amendment changed the language to clarify the bill was intended for individuals who are so incapacitated by alcohol that they are a danger to themselves or the public.

Representative Carolyn Pease-Lopez says because of the amendment she would reluctantly support the bill. But the Democrat from Billings remains concerned Native Americans would be unfairly targeted if the City of Billings enacted such an ordinance.

"I have a lot of suspicion, and even in the dialogue, long standing attitudes surfaced of misunderstanding and hatred of people like me."

And that is why Representative Jenny Eck of Helena says she can't support this bill, even as amended.

"I share similar concerns," Eck said. I think this still opens the door for incarcerating people who have an issue with alcoholism. I don't think it closes the door on racial profiling because of this appearance issue."

Eck was referring to language in the bill that leaves it up to a peace officer to make a determination based on an individual's behavior.

During the hearings before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, proponents say this bill was just one tool to help those who suffer the effects of addiction or mental illness get the treatment and services they need to get off the streets of downtown Billings.

Senate Bill 360 unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. The full Senate also endorsed the bill, but concerns were raised in the House.

During today's executive action, after discussing the amendments and the bill as amended a substitute, non-debatable motion was made to table the bill.

The motion to table was approved on a 14-to-7 vote.

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