Havre Daily News: Tester talks law enforcement, border security, Farm Bill

by Patrick Johnston

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., talked about upcoming legislation supporting law enforcement during a press call Thursday, where he also talked about border security, mental health care and flood mitigation in the state as well as the upcoming Farm Bill.

Tester said keeping Montana communities safe is a top priority of his and he works with law enforcement every year to increase their funding, as well as funding for first responders.

He said he’s worked on bills to provide law enforcement with the funds for necessary equipment and the support the need to enforce laws like the Violence against Women Act and he also supports the Community Oriented Policing Services program.

Despite this, he said, law enforcement needs more support.

Tester said he is backing the Recruit and Retain Act, which would provide millions of dollars to create a Pipeline Recruitment Program between schools and universities and law enforcement, which would collaborate to recruit talented young people.

He also said he’s supporting efforts to let COPS grants be used to cover administrative costs, which would help struggling departments.

He said they need to train the next generation of officers and these recent efforts will help do that.

“Being an officer is a tough job, but every officer I know is very proud of the work that they do,” he said.

During the call, Tester was asked about a recent visit he made to Glendive where he spoke with local law enforcement about the difficulties presented by the large distances between communities, and their competition for resources with larger departments.

He said the aforementioned legislation will help with that, but he’s also looking to do something a bit more direct to help alleviate that problem.

He said this isn’t a sure thing, but he’s trying to get a new police academy in that area, which will help the local departments address some of their issues.

Tester was also asked about the possibility of putting a police officer in schools.

He said it’s a troubling sign of the times that such a thing might be necessary in a lot of cases, but he emphasized that he thinks local school boards should be making that determination for themselves.

He said he generally supports putting officers in schools for the sake of school safety and because it would encourage students to develop more respect for people in law enforcement, but every district is different and he trusts school boards to know whether that is a benefit for them or not.

Tester also talked about a pair of anti drug trafficking laws passed last year which aimed to decrease the presence of fentanyl and other dangerous substances by giving border patrol the funding to purchase new non-intrusive scanning technologies to detect hidden compartments in vehicles crossing the southern border.

As for the northern border, he said, President Joe Biden will be traveling to Canada soon, and he has asked the president to use that opportunity to address Montana’s border-related needs, like resuming pre-pandemic hours at the ports of entry.

He said Canada is Montana’s biggest trading partner and while the state in general is being hurt by the situation at the border, northern towns are especially affected by it.

During the call, he was also asked about the Brazilian Beef Act, which aims to suspend the importation of Brazilian beef, but that’s something he said he’s also trying to address in this year’s Farm Bill.

He said the provision he’s hoping to get into the Farm Bill wouldn’t be an outright ban, as that bill generally doesn’t do that kind of thing, but it might not make it into the bill, so he’s still supporting the Brazilian Beef Act separately.

Failing that, he said, introducing mandatory country of origin labeling would go a long way toward solving the issue.

“I think if we are able to label our meat, and it’s labeled ‘Product of Brazil,’” he said, “I’m not sure if consumers are going to flock to that.”

Tester was also asked about flood mitigation, which more than one reporter on the call expressed concern about when the ice finally starts melting.

Tester said he’s working to make sure the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have what they need to maintain the state’s dams and address any issues that may arise.

He was also asked about the state of mental health care in Montana and what can be done to improve that.

He said a million dollars has been allocated for rural behavioral health clinics in the state, but he knows the situation in Montana is still pretty rough, for both civilians and veterans.

He said Montana is still in the top three states with the highest suicide rates and a lot of people are looking for help during the ongoing mental health provider shortage.

Tester said he’s working on helping the state set up incentives like loan forgiveness to draw more professionals to Montana, as well as legislation to put at least one psychologist in every school district.

He said having a professional in every school district is a critical tool, not just for helping individual students, but for normalizing the idea that seeking help is alright.

He said almost everyone, even if they don’t have a chronic issue, has had times in their lives when they needed help, and destigmatizing mental health helps everyone.