Both MT Senators Continue Work on Bills For Rural Montana

Senator Jon Tester (D) introduced a bill last month with Senator Deb Fischer, Neb., that seeks to improve safety at rural train crossings. As of right now, railroad crossing arms are only installed at locations where a road is wide enough for two vehicles. A second bill to address the dangers of parked trains on highway-railroad crossings was also introduced by the same two senators.

Valley County has reported two cases of vehicle-train collisions this year at rural crossings. The first occurred on July 18 in Hinsdale at the crossing with crossing arms. There were no injuries. The second occurred near Vandalia Aug. 27, and the driver suffered minor injuries in the collision at the intersection without crossing arms.

In other work, Tester is leading a group of bipartisan lawmakers to reauthorize the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and Secure Rural Schools (SRS) programs in end-of-year legislation funding the government. “SRS and PILT serve as a lifeline to rural America’s local governments and now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the budgets of these rural counties have taken a hit,” wrote Tester and colleagues in a letter to Congressional leadership. “These two programs fund roads, schools, law enforcement, and essential county services, such as public health programs. With additional demands on their resources as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, rural communities and counties are stretched thinner than ever.”

In a development since the passage of Savanna’s Act, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation have launched a pilot program to develop a collaborative community response plan to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons cases in Indian Country. The Tribal Community Response Plan pilot project is the first of its kind in the nation, according to a press release from Tester’s office, and if successful, will serve as a blueprint in other regional programs. Savanna’s Act was named in honor of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind who was murdered in North Dakota in August, 2017. The law seeks to improve information sharing between Tribal and federal law enforcement agencies and increase data collection to improve responses to the MMIP epidemic.

Senator Steve Daines (R), along with Tester, is working to expand permanent telehealth coverage in rural areas beyond the current coronavirus pandemic. In a letter to Congressional leadership, Daines pointed out that growing uses and benefits of telehealth services in rural areas as patients avoid traveling to health care providers and receive health care at home.

“Telehealth has been a critical tool during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that patients can continue to receive the health care services that they need while minimizing the spread of the virus and keeping health care providers and patients healthy and safe,” Daines wrote. “We continue to hear from our constituents and health care providers that the uncertainty about the long-term future of Medicare telehealth coverage is a barrier to organizations investing fully in telehealth. Congress needs to act now to better serve patients and health care providers during the pandemic, and to ensure that telehealth remains an option after the pandemic is over.”

A press release from Tester said the Senator is fighting to have geographic restrictions removed on originating sites so that a patient’s ability to receive telehealth services is not based on where they live. The CONNECT for Health Act works to expand telehealth services in rural communities.

In other medical-related legislation, Daines’ bipartisan bill, the COMPACT Act (formerly Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act) was signed into law. The bill will help create treatment and therapy opportunities for veterans on public lands and outdoor spaces. “The outdoors is critical to our Montana way of life and can help Montana veterans who are recovering from trauma and injuries they experienced in combat,” Daines said in a press release. “That’s why I’m glad my bipartisan bill promoting recovery and treatment programs on public lands for the benefit of Montana veterans has been signed into law.”

Daines continues to work on delivering COVID-19 treatments to the state. A second shipment of Regeneron’s antibody therapeutic, casirivimab and imdevimab, to the state was announced last week by the senator’s office. Montana was scheduled to receive 150 treatment courses of the medication. A fourth shipment of Eli Lilly’s antibody therapy was scheduled last week and a shipment of bamlanivimab is upcoming. Daines helped secure funding for the medications under Operation Warp Speed.