Havre Daily News: Tester provides update to Hi-Line on bills

by Patrick Johnson

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. held a rural press call Thursday where he talked about the return of full Amtrak Service to the Hi-Line, a bill to provide benefits to veterans suffering from exposure to toxic substances, and a bill providing more resources to law enforcement for combatting drug trafficking.

Tester said he’s happy to see full Amtrak service return to the Hi-Line

after long-distance service was cut last summer by Amtrak, which cited reduced ridership due to the pandemic.

This cut service included the Empire Builder that crosses the Hi-Line as it runs from Chicago to Seattle and Portland.

Members of Montana’s congressional delegation including Tester had been working to restore the service almost as soon as it was announced.

Tester sponsored a bill, co-sponsored by fellow Montana Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., to appropriate funds to restore that service.

That bill was included as part of the American Rescue Plan Act that passed in March and was signed into law by President Joe Biden.

“The fact is people from Wolf Point to Libby depend on a reliable service to visit family and friends and conduct business and stay connected with the rest of the country,” Tester said. “It’s an engine of economic activity.”

He said it was good to be able to work with people on the Hi-Line to get the service moving again.

Tester also talked about new legislation that passed out of committee Wednesday, the Cost of War Act, which he said provides benefits to veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service.

He said veterans have had to cobble together health care and disability benefits due to a piecemeal process of providing for them.

He said instead of the normal process of taking single steps on behalf of one group of veterans, it is time to address all of their need comprehensively.

In WWI it was mustard gas, in WWII it was radiation, in Vietnam it was Agent Orange, the Gulf War, burn pits, he said, and the bill will address all of these groups at once.

Tester said the new bill, which allows people exposed to dangerous chemicals during service to access lifelong health care from the Veterans Administration, was worked on with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and had obtained bipartisan support.

He said these veterans’ health care bills will cost a fair amount of money, but the country has a duty to take care of veterans, given how much they sacrificed.

He said he hopes to be back in Montana for Memorial Day to celebrate the service of local veterans.

“Keep in mind this weekend, as we should every day, that the folks that sacrificed so much for this country and help make it what it is,” Tester said. “They’ve helped ensure our right to vote, they’ve helped ensure our representative democracy, they’ve helped make sure we can have businesses that operate in a capitalist system.”

He said he also recently worked with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton to advocate for the ANTI Drugs Act, which will increase funding to programs that combat the drug epidemic including Operation Stonegarden which deals with policing the northern border with Canada.

Tester said it makes sense that most border patrol efforts focus on the southern border, but drugs still come in from Canada, and law enforcement needs more support to stop it.

He also said the U.S. Senate is continuing to work on an infrastructure bill, one he hopes will be bipartisan, to upgrade outdated electrical grids, highways and cyber security so the U.S. can continue to protect itself from and compete with adversaries like China.

Tester also talked briefly about the pandemic and said the situation in the U.S. looks better and better, if the Centers for Disease Controls recent changes to mask recommendations are anything to go by.

Despite the relaxed recommendations, he said, people should feel comfortable wearing masks if they want to and shouldn’t feel guilty for being extra careful to keep those around them safe.