Missoula, MT (KGVO AM News) - Senate Bill 195 was introduced in the Montana Legislature on Monday by State Senator Jeremy Trebas, District 13 in Great Falls.

The bill is an effort to help remove some obstacles that churches around the state are experiencing when they attempt to allow homeless persons to spend the night inside a warm church building rather than in the bitter sometimes below-zero cold.

Senator Trebas explained the genesis of his bill.

The Issue is Should a Church be Allowed to Provide Overnight Shelter even if they Don't Have Fire Sprinklers?

“It’s an issue that came to my attention where local building officials and some fire officials are, in my view, stretching their authority beyond what they should based on what the administrative rules of Montana say you can do in building codes,” began Trebas. “The extra piece is a church's first amendment right to take care of the poor, and that’s also part of my bill. It's not in there explicitly, but I thought I covered it. But you know, we added an amendment that will be coming that is more explicit to that purpose as well.”

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Trebas said the bottom line is that some small-town churches don’t have adequate water sprinklers in case of a fire.

“It has to do with fire sprinklers,” he said. “So when it comes to fire sprinklers, a lot of older buildings don't have them. And often they're being either required so that you can’t fulfill your church's or nonprofit's purpose or in the case of largely nonresidential facilities and it's expensive to upgrade and get those in. I'll be talking about that in our hearing today about safety and balancing that with private property rights and caring for those that need it.”

Trying for Balance Between Safety and Compassion

Trebas is hoping to find the balancing point between safety codes and compassion for the homeless.

“That's really what the balance is,” he said. “Yes, safety should be a factor when it comes to fire but safety should also be a factor when it comes to the fact that there's someone sleeping outside in minus 38-degree weather. That's, that's dangerous, so we’re balancing safety in different respects. This bill may be amended to take different forms as we talked about it as we go, but that's the basic idea.”

Trebas said there is one prominent organization that is helping to sponsor and push the bill forward, Family Promise.

The group Family Promise is Supporting the Bill

“One organization right now is Family Promise,” he said. “They put out a press release, I believe this morning about some of the issues they're having and what they'd like to do, which is be able to house people, especially when it's cold, inside a church building, even though they don't have fire sprinklers. These are families mostly that are going from church to church to be inside. I think it's just common sense balancing common sense with safety, and that's the message we presented. Let's balance fire safety with hazardous weather safety and allows also allow churches to do what their purpose is under the First Amendment, which is to care for people.”

The bill was first read on Monday afternoon.

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