Tester Meets with Havre and Hill County Officials

U.S. Senator Jon Tester (middle) meets with local officials from Havre and Hill County on the morning of February 25th at Bear Paw Development

By Josh Margolis

HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) stopped by Bear Paw Development in Havre on Friday morning to discuss a variety of issues with local officials.

Two much talked-about issues during the 45 minute long meeting were CDL requirements and Amtrak.

When it comes to Commercial Driver’s Licensing, both city and county officials expressed concerns about new regulations that have gone into effect requiring applicants to complete a training course.

However, as Public Works Director Dave Peterson noted, training can cost thousands of dollars and is currently only available in Montana in Helena and Billings.

“Most of the people that we’re hiring now don’t have CDLs. And so that’s really gonna be on the city to send them to that (training). You’re looking at $4,000-$5,000,” said Peterson. “And then, you don’t know if you’re going to be able to keep them. Whether they stay or not after you do that, it’s there. But the ones I see the big issue for, and I know they are working on it, is your school systems. Most of your bus drivers are retired people that are doing it just to help out. It’s not a job for them, it’s just they are there to help a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the evening and they have to go through the same requirements to do this. You’re just not going to see them do that. Something really needs to be looked at that as far as they are really putting a hamper on CDLs.”

“I can tell you that the CDL has gotten to be more restrictive than my pilot’s license,” added Mayor Doug Kaercher.

In an interview with New Media Broadcasters following the meeting, Tester said he will see what can be done to change things.

“We’re giving (Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg) a call next week and seeing if we can get him to back off. Look, safety is really, really important. But I’ve always felt the school districts need to be run by school boards and administrators at the local level. I can tell you when I was on the school board, if we had a driver that wasn’t doing the job, wasn’t able to drive the bus up to the level that needed to happen – whether he had a CDL or not or she had a CDL or not, they would be removed from that job. So I think that we’ll leave it up to the school boards. We’ve had requirements for CDLs for many, many years, but the requirement to go off to certain schools that takes weeks at a time to get done baffles me a bit. But we’ll jump on it and see if we can give folks some slack on that.”


Local officials also expressed significant concern about the future of Amtrak on the Hi-Line.

The Empire Builder is currently running five-days-a-week due to pandemic related staffing issues. It was down to just three-days-a-week earlier in the pandemic before Congress provided billions in funding.

And regardless of how often Amtrak is running, one of the prevailing concerns is the lack of ticket agents in Havre. Library Director Rachel Rawn says she often sees seniors visiting the Library just to get help buying tickets.

“I’m going to be talking to Amtrak,” Tester told New Media Broadcasters after the meeting. “I owe them a phone call anyway. To talk to them about the agents that are there, why they can’t sell a ticket. I mean, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me in this day and age where you can buy a ticket sitting down at your computer, but you can’t have an agent do that? I just think it’s a problem that could be pretty easily fixed, and we’re going to be visiting with them about it. Because I know this from my experience: computers aren’t always user friendly. And if you’re a little bit older, they are really not user friendly. So the ability to go in and lay down a credit card and buy a ticket is really, I think it’s important, especially in rural communities.”

Tester also alleviated fears about the possibility of a new passenger line in southern Montana impacting the Hi-Line economy.

“The idea is trying to get the Hiawatha reestablished,” Tester said at the meeting. “That’s the idea. I’m going to tell you from my perspective that I think it’s a noble cause and it would be great for the state of Montana. But they are a long ways away from that. A long ways away. There’s some money in the bin for studies and things like that, but the truth is that study is for the whole west. So the people of Salt Lake are going to want to (connect) with Portland. I don’t know if we can compete passenger-wise with those guys or not. But that’s what would come out of the studies. But not moving the (Empire Builder). No.”

Officials at the meeting included Hill County Commissioners Mark Peterson and Jake Strissel, Havre Mayor Doug Kaercher, Havre Public Works Director Dave Peterson, Havre City Councilors Ed Matter, Denise Brewer, and Lindsey Ratliff, Havre Fire Chief Mel Paulson, Assistant Chief Nate Courtnage, Havre-Hill County Library Director Rachel Rawn and Bear Paw Development Executive Director Paul Tuss. Ratliff is the newly-named chair of the Hill County Democrats, while Tuss has announced his candidacy as a Democrat for House District 28.

Following the meeting, Tester visited the studios of New Media Broadcasters for a 25-minute interview. The audio has been included at the end of this story, with topics discussed including the Keystone XL pipeline, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the cross-border vaccine mandate for truckers, agricultural issues, Amtrak, ARPA and infrastructure, the St. Mary’s System, and much more.

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