Rep. Llew Jones

I grew up driving on our ranch way before legal age. In junior high I drove our ’67 Ford pickup 5 miles down the highway after school each night to haul 43 bales of hay home for $5 per load. I hauled coal with an old International truck my eighth grade summer.

I obtained my commercial driver’s license (CDL) right after high school. And, at around age 45, after forgetting to renew on time, I went through the new arduous process of passing all the driving and written tests again.

I am not unique. Montanans have been learning to drive truck and bus without special courses for decades. So why am I sharing this?

Federal law, as of Feb. 7, 2022, requires the Department of Justice Motor Vehicle Division to verify that all new CDL applicants have successfully completed entry-level driver training (ELDT) and the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse requirements. Montana is now the only state that has failed to comply with verifications of ELDT status.

My libertarian instinct is to keep telling the federal government to butt out. As a farm boy I learned far more about hauling heavy loads in rough conditions than any school could teach. But there are growing consequences to not following federal law.

Per the federal government, if Montana still fails to comply with the ELDT requirements when the Legislature adjourns in 2023, the state will be subject to decertification of its CDL program and/or withholding of up to about $20 million in highway funds.

In addition, Montana applicants who obtain their CDL without ELDT training signoff will likely not be recognized as valid CDL drivers outside Montana.

Montana is a rural agricultural state. We truck our cattle to market. We truck our fertilizer. We truck our agricultural equipment. We truck goods to our stores. We truck most everything. Libertarian streak or not, Montana cannot ignore the risk that new truck and bus CDLs will not be legal in other states.

As such, we must satisfy this federal requirement somehow. My effort will be to support doing so in the least intrusive manner possible.

The Montana Motor Vehicle Division should be charged with providing the training and certification in a manner that recognizes previous learned skills while not forcing new applicants to travel long distances to train.

Existing exemptions such as those for military, agricultural, firefighting, emergency response and snowplow service must remain valid. It is essential that previously licensed CDL drivers not be required to retrain.

I dislike federal dictates, but doing nothing risks Montana becoming the only state unable to issue valid new CDL licenses. It would be a travesty if Montana CDL hopefuls had to leave the state to train.

I have sent this information to the Grain Growers, the Farm Bureau, the Stockgrowers, the Wool Growers and the Marias Livestock Association. While this federal law may irate the libertarian in all of us, we need to get the outcome right.

Thank you for allowing me to be your representative.

Rep. Llew Jones, a Republican, serves the 18th District of the Montana House of Representatives.

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