Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) -- There are often several days in between when a victim of domestic violence or human trafficking asks for help and when they get a permanent place where they feel safe.

A bill introduced to the Senate Taxation Committee Tuesday would use grants to give survivors a place to go and hotels a reason to let them stay.

Republican Sen. Daniel Zolnikov is the sponsor of Senate Bill 522

The bill would give 1% of state revenue from the Lodging Facility Use Tax to pay for the program, which would give organizations focused on ending domestic and sexual violence money to put survivors up in hotel rooms for the few days between getting help and finding a permanent living situation.

Survivors would need to work through preexisting organizations focused on ending domestic and sexual violence to get put up in the rooms. Each person or family who goes through the program would get a maximum stay of five days.

“What I've been trying to do is fill the gaps of where there's need. So this will take a little bit of that money and allow for a charitable organization to be able to basically get reimbursed or a grant for hotel rooms,” Zolnikov said. 

There were four proponents of the bill, many representing the hospitality industry. Melissa Mitton spoke on behalf of the American Hospitality and Lodging Association, which is the nation’s largest hotel association. She said she and others in the hospitality industry know exactly what role hotels can play in a human trafficking situation and they’re doing everything in their power to prevent such crimes.

Now, she says the AHLA would be strong proponents of providing a safe space for people to rest and recover in the few days right after they get out of a bad situation. 

“Hoteliers are uniquely positioned to tackle human trafficking, and the industry is leading the private sector. Since 2019, AHLA has united the industry around one goal -- training every employee to identify and report suspected trafficking. And the foundation now drives these efforts forward as the voice of the industry's commitment to combat this crime and support those victimized,” Mitton said. 

There was only one opponent of SB 522, and only because she had an amendment. Kelsen Young represented the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and she said the program would help a lot of people. She also said that it should be run through a different department. 

“For us, this is simply a matter of who's best to administer it. And in this regard, Montana Board of Crime Control, I do think makes the most sense,” Young said. 

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.