BILLINGS - The Montana Senate approved a bill seeking to regulate sober-living homes this week, bringing the measure one step closer to becoming law.
If the bill passes the full Legislature, it will have a significant impact on the city of Billings, which accounts for more than half of all recovery residences in the state. The legislation has left many involved with sober-living homes in the area divided.
Collin Wilson manages five homes in Billings. He said that the bill could really affect his day-to-day operations but believes it can do some good.
“So, I can say for myself that I’m cautiously optimistic," Wilson said Monday afternoon. "At the end of the day, if this is the avenue that helps support safe and sober living then, that’s what it is."
The bill's biggest change would be requiring recovery residences to receive national certification before receiving state funding. Part of Wilson's optimism is that his homes have already been certified by a program called National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR).
“We are certified through NARR," Wilson said. "That’s just one of I believe three national certifying organizations right now, and we've been following their standards since long before we became certified officially."
While the state hasn't specified what certifications would qualify, NARR focuses on four domains: administrative operations, physical environment, recovery support, and being a good neighbor. Wilson said that NARR representatives came and visited all five of his homes and will continue to do checkups annually.
The legislation will also address safety protocols inside these homes, including rules regarding personal belongings and keeping opioid medications on site.
For Wilson, upholding the NARR standard is nothing out of the ordinary. His primary focus is providing his residents with a stable environment.
“This is not what you would necessarily expect from sober living," Wilson said. "These are well-maintained, well-run homes, that by in large have a positive impact on people."
Wilson also said that while his homes are already certified, he knows many homes in the area are not.
“There are a lot of good sober-living homes out there that don’t necessarily affiliate with national organizations, and there are unfortunately ones that aren’t affiliated with any and probably have some work to do,” Wilson said.
Kacy Keith and Traci Jordan co-own Sober Beginnings, an organization that operates six homes in Billings. One was destroyed by a fire in November, displacing its 13 residents.
"We’ve had the contractor come out to bid," Keith said Monday afternoon. "We’re working on subcontractors right now and getting the insurance all figured out, but we are planning to rebuild."
As plans to rebuild move forward, Keith and Jordan are concerned about the bill now before the Legislature.
“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,” Keith said.
And while the bill still needs to make it all the way through the House, Wilson said he understands the apprehension and hopes the bill can accomplish what everyone wants.
“It’s Montana. We’re a red state," Wilson said. "Nobody likes the government stepping in when they don’t necessarily need to. I just think that the push in general is trying to achieve quality sober-living residences."