Tester touts livestock-hauling bill during Billings stop

by MTN News, Samantha Harrelson

BILLINGS – Sen. Jon Tester, along with 10 other senators from both sides of the aisle, are looking to pass legislation that would provide certain exemptions for those hauling livestock.

“Montana raises the best ag products in the world, cattle especially,” Tester said Wednesday in Billings. “We have to be able to get those cows to market and the rules in Washington, D.C., don’t allow us to do that. And quite frankly, it treats the animals pretty inhumanely in the process and doesn’t help with safety.”

The bipartisan Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act would allow those who haul livestock more time on the road. Tester, a Montana Democrat, met with ranchers Wednesday at the Public Auction Yards to discuss the legislation.

“Ranchers and folks know that it takes a little bit of time to get these cattle loaded,” said Jess Peterson, a rancher and member of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. “Your electronic logging device should not be on during that time frame. This bill does that.”

The proposed bill would allow ranchers to load cattle before their electronic logging device is running. The device would also not turn on until the driver is outside a 300-mile radius from the place the cattle were loaded. It would then allow 15 hours of drive time.

Supporters said the bill is crucial for the industry because the regulated, shorter drive times mean cattle often must be loaded and unloaded more than once, causing the animals extra stress.

“You’re dealing with something that is alive,” said Tester. “You’re dealing with cattle. You’re not dealing with bushels of wheat, you’re not dealing with something that is stored on a pallet. You’re dealing with live animals, and when you get them loaded up you gotta be able to get them to the feed lots and those feed lots are in the Midwest…Right now you would have to unload these animals when you get a certain way on down the road. That’s not practical, it just doesn’t work for the trucker and it certainly doesn’t work for the cows.”

Area ranchers warned Wednesday of severe consequences if this bill doesn’t pass.

“We’re gonna have to start looking at team drivers to be able to haul livestock,” said Chris Skorupa, the owner of Beartooth Fertilizer Inc. “The costs are going to be incurred on trucking companies such as ourselves to pay two drivers and to keep up on the extra mandates…it’s gonna make it difficult for a lot of people to stay in business.”

“Your costs are going to go up and your income is going to go down,” said Peterson. “Montana families, Montana ranch families…they’re gonna feel a hit if this bill doesn’t get passed.”

Tester said on Wednesday this is a perfect example of how Washington, D.C. is out of touch with rural America.