KTVH: Daines proposes legislation to help wildland firefighters

(MTN NEWS-HELENA) U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) unveiled new legislation to help wildland firefighters and praised the selection of Rep. Ryan Zinke as the next U.S. Secretary of the Interior during a visit to Helena Thursday.

Federal firefighters are entitled to retirement after 20 years because of the hazardous nature of their work. But if they get hurt and can’t return to a firefighting job, they’re currently forced to switch to a 30-year retirement track, like other federal workers. 

Daines has introduced a bill that would let firefighters injured on the job remain on the 20-year track. It would also take their overtime pay into account when calculating workers’ compensation benefits.

“We’re going to fight hard back in Washington on behalf of our firefighters who protect us every year, and make sure we’re standing up for them back in Washington as they stand for us back here in the West,” Daines said.

Daines met with smokejumper Shane Ralston and helitack firefighter Brendan Mullen Thursday in Helena. Both men were severely injured on duty. They say the proposed legislation would be a major improvement for federal firefighters.

Daines also told MTN News he’s pleased president-elect Donald Trump will appoint Zinke as Interior Secretary. The Department of the Interior manages about 75 percent of federal lands. Once confirmed, Zinke will oversee agencies like the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

“I know that Ryan Zinke understands the importance of public lands and protecting those, not just for this generation, for generations to come,” said Daines.

Daines says he made a suggestion about the Interior position to Donald Trump Jr. last month, while the president-elect’s son was on a trip in Montana. 

“I made it very clear that the Secretary of the Interior needs to be a Westerner, and preferably a Montanan, and it turns out that we have a Montanan serving now as our new Secretary of the Interior.”

When Zinke leaves the House, a special election will be held to choose his replacement. Daines says he’s asked entrepreneur and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte to consider running.

“I think we need more men and women who bring business experience to Washington D.C., who understand how to create good, high-paying jobs,” he said. “Greg gets that, and I think he’d make a great congressman.”

So far, Gianforte says he’s getting ready for the holidays and hasn’t made any decision.