BILLINGS – The City Council waded Monday into next year’s legislative topics that Billings may like to push forward.
The city’s lobbyist, Ed Bartlett, outlined a number of issues that will likely once again come up in Helena, including a previously failed measure to give law enforcement more tools to clean up streets of public intoxication.
Currently, Billings does not have authority to make an ordinance that would make it illegal to be drunk in public. As an example, if a person was passed out in front of a building, that individual is not technically breaking any laws.
Bartlett said to have something passed, Billings will need more cities on board. Several other cities would like to, but they lack funding. “There isn’t anyway in the foreseeable future they would provide funding for that,” Bartlett said.
Another topic that has been discussed for decades without passage is the Local Option Authority — the ability to allow voters to decide on a creating a sales tax.
“No more disappointment that that matter has not been a successful venture in the state Legislature,” Bartlett said. “It’s time that it happens.”
A positive for the city from the 2017 Legislature included the gas tax increase. But not everyone on the council was impressed.
Councilmember Mike Yakawich said he “struggled with our success rate,” asking how the city could create more team effort.
Bartlett staunchly disagreed, citing the city’s involvement on about 30 issues each legislative session, both for and against.
He defended his efforts, which include a weekly report to the city and a final report at the end of the session.
“There are only few we’ve been unsuccessful on,” he said.
Bartlett said the Yakawich question was a bit personal, and he emphasized his ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats.
Mayor Bill Cole suggested councilmembers also travel to Helena to help lobby.
Following a question from Councilmember Penny Ronning on the problems of homelessness and human trafficking in the state and region, Bartlett said Billings area lawmakers do a good job of communicating, but they are less unified on a number of issues.
“If they did that more and on the items you mentioned, it’d be amazing what could be accomplished,” Bartlett said. “If I have a concern, it’s not with their level of understanding. It’s that they don’t work together.”
Bartlett said bipartisanship has been an issue for the entire Legislature, but he commended Billings’ delegation for their work.
The 2019 Legislature will begin Jan. 7.
Reporting by Dustin Klemann for MTN News