A new Idaho crime? Idaho shepherds abandoning their flocks

A bill making it a crime for a shepherd to walk off the job without properly notifying the boss was introduced in the Senate Monday.

Sought by the Idaho Wool Growers Association with the support of Jefferson County sheepman and Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, the measure would also make it a crime to aid and abet the wayward shepherd. Both offenses would be misdemeanors.

Stan Boyd, a lobbyist for the wool growers, took the bill to Senate State Affairs Committee because it’s too late in the session for the committee with jurisdiction — the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee – to introduce bills.

“We’ve had a real problem here of late,” said Boyd, explaining that foreign workers who come as “H-2A” agriculture workers have been leaving for better jobs and leaving bands of sheep on the open range. Such workers sign three-year contracts, with travel and visa expenses Boyd estimated at $2,500 to $3,000. Idaho has a long history of employing shepherds from overseas, first from the Basque Country in Spain and France and more recently from South America.

“Then in the middle of the night, maybe three months later, they walk off and abandon the sheep, or, if in the lambing sheds they abandon their duties there,” Boyd said. “They’re enticed with a better job at a nursery or a landscaper.”

Boyd said the breaking of the contract makes the workers’ status illegal. He said sheepmen simply want the disgruntled employees to give appropriate notice. “They can always be transferred to another organization, or they can go home.”

Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said he understood the bill would likely have a hearing in the Agriculture Committee, but asked Boyd, “Is there another job description in Idaho where quitting your job results in a misdemeanor?”

Replied Boyd: “I can’t answer that. I don’t know.”

Siddoway’s involvement raised a question from the Senate’s top leader, President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg.

The committee agenda said the request to print the bill came from the Local Government and Taxation Committee, which Siddoway chairs and upon which Hill also sits. A letter to the State Affairs Committee from Siddoway said, “The Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee requests that the enclosed (draft bill), relating to penalties for abandonment of sheep be sent to print from your committee and then referred back to the Local Government and Taxation Committee for further action.”

Hill said he didn’t recall the tax committee reviewing the measure.

Explained Boyd: “We’ve had a rush of requests from the industry and, of course, Sen. Siddoway being a wool grower, I went to him.”

Hill suggested that Siddoway’s letter be withdrawn from the committee minutes. “I’m not trying to stumble over gnats here, but if my understanding is correct this has not come before the Local Government and Taxation Committee,” Hill said. “It’s not a request from the committee, it’s a request from the committee chairman — which is just fine, he can do that anytime he wants.”

Siddoway apologized. He also disclosed his potential conflict of interest as a rancher who employs H-2A workers.

Siddoway committed another procedural faux pas when he asked that the bill be referred to Agricultural Affairs. Hill reminded Siddoway that he has the authority to assign bills to committees. “It’s the pro tem’s prerogative,” Hill said.

“Sorry,” said a contrite Siddoway. “Now I know I am out of bounds. Sorry.”

The committee then introduced the measure on a voice vote.

 

 

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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