Tester Statement on Vice President Pence’s Trip to Billings

‘Montanans expect more than lip service’

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester issued the following statement today in response to Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to Billings:

“We’ve got to keep our communities safe and support the work our brave law enforcement officers do to combat drug trafficking using the HIDTA grant program. That’s why I’m fighting to fully fund HIDTA and oppose the President’s proposal to cut valuable resources from the program. Montanans expect more than lip service, and these cuts would undermine our fight against drug abuse and the devastation it has had on communities across rural states like Montana.”

Vice President Pence is in Billings today, meeting with members of the Eastern Montana High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force at RiverStone Health. High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area grants fund regional task forces made up of local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies to dismantle drug trafficking organizations and reduce drug-related crime. The Billings Police Department leads the Eastern Montana HIDTA Task Force – one of five HIDTA Task Forces in Montana.

The President’s proposed budget includes a $26 million cut to HIDTA and would move the program under the jurisdiction of the Drug Enforcement Agency, putting the five HIDTA taskforces in Montana at risk. Tester has previously raised serious alarms about the White House’s attempt to gut funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which currently administers the HIDTA grant program and has been instrumental in combatting meth and opioid addiction in Montana. As a result, Tester is demanding that the White House keep HIDTA under the Office of National Drug Control Policy and that his colleagues in Congress fully fund HIDTA at $280 million next year.

Tester is also pushing back against the President’s proposed cuts to other initiatives that are helping law enforcement combat Montana’s meth crisis. These include the Byrne JAG grant program, which helps fund additional drug task forces in Montana, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program, which is used to hire additional law enforcement officers and purchase equipment, and the Operation Stonegarden grant program, which helps law enforcement agencies intercept drugs at the border. Tester introduced the Assisting Narcotics and Trafficking Officers in Interdicting (ANTI) Drugs Act to reauthorize funding for these programs last Congress, following a roundtable discussion with Billings law enforcement officers who said that drug abuse and trafficking fuel most violent crimes in the region.