Tester takes questions from Great Falls residents

Sen. Jon Tester was in Great Falls taking questions from residents during a town hall on Tuesday at Great Falls College MSU.

In his opening remarks, he said gun control legislation may come back to the floor this fall.

Lawmakers, Tester said, “owe the American people at least to have the debate,” drawing applause from the audience of roughly 100 people.

Several attendees asked Tester about preventing mass shootings and addressing gun violence.

Tester said he supports background checks but also supports the rights of law abiding citizens to own guns.

The recent shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, among others, Tester said demonstrate that “we’ve got issues here when it comes to guns and how they work. I think it’s important that we have the debate.”

During the forum, questions ranged from the future of American democracy, health insurance, conservation, education and the drug crisis to immigration, climate change and the Department of Veterans Affairs, among others.

In an interview with The Electric afterward, Tester said the Air Force’s process to replace the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system with the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent system should remain on track despite Boeing dropping out of contention for the contract.

Boeing drops out of GBSD competition to replace ICBMs

Tester said he’s asked Air Force officials about the GBSD and been assured that the process would continue to move forward.

Ground was recently broken on the new missile maintenance dispatch facility at Malmstrom, a project that was earlier this year on a Pentagon list that could potentially have funding diverted to the administration’s border wall.

Tester opposed the diversion of any funding from Montana military projects for the border wall and said it remains a possibility and a concern to him since it’s happening within military budgets as well as that of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

As for the runway at Malmstrom that is oft a point of contention related to development around the base, Tester said he’d love to reopen it, but so far, “I have not found anybody who has the appetite to reopen the runway.”

One attendee thanked Tester for reintroducing the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, which was developed collaboratively by Montana groups who live and work in the Blackfoot River watershed.

He asked how sportsmen and outdoorsmen could support the legislation to get it approved by Congress and signed into law.

Tester said they need at least the rest of the Montana delegation to support the bill and throughout the event, suggested that residents send letters and/or emails to their congressmen to ensure their voices are heard.

Tracy Houck, a city commissioner, asked Tester a question in her role as director of Paris Gibson Square, a local nonprofit.

She said her nonprofit and others were seeing fewer donations because of changes in the tax laws that don’t give donors as much of a deduction for charitable giving.

Houck said as a result nonprofits are struggling and asked if there was a way to address the issue,

Testes said nonprofits fill the gap in many cases of programs that have been cut back at the federal and state level, but to fix it, Congress would have to change tax laws and there’s no appetite for that currently.

Another attendee asked Tester how he plans to entice doctors to rural areas. Tester said he believes residencies will help.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finalized a rule change that incorporated Tester’s legislation that allowed Medicare to make reimbursements for the time residents spend in training at critical access hospitals, of which there are 48 in Montana. The hospitals are facilities in rural communities that have fewer than 25 inpatient beds, according to Tester’s office.

In a release earlier this month, Tester said, “the Administration did the right thing by breaking down the barriers to training physicians in rural Montana. It’s a pretty simple strategy: if we want to see more doctors in rural areas, we’ve got to train them in rural areas. Allowing medical residents to train at our critical access hospitals is a huge step forward that’ll help ensure health care is more accessible to communities across rural America.”