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Bill says shepherds who leave post could be charged with a crime

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Sheepherders who abandon their animals on the open range could soon be guilty of a misdemeanor, according to a livestock-industry proposal that seeks to enlist the state to help enforce conditions of employment. The Senate State Affairs Committee agreed to introduce the bill Monday seeking to charge sheepherders with a misdemeanor for going on the lam. Aiding or abetting somebody leaving their sheep would also be a crime. Idaho Wool Growers Association director Stan Boyd says foreign workers who leave sheep unattended on the open range have become a big problem. Even so, some lawmakers were skeptical. Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk of Boise asked Boyd if he knew of any other job in Idaho where workers could be charged with a crime just for quitting. Boyd didn't know of any.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller, headlined "Bill would punish shepherds who go on the lam."

Bill would punish shepherds who go on the lam
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press 

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — In Idaho, Little Bo Peep better keep up with her sheep.

The livestock industry wants a new law, to charge shepherds who abandon their animals on the open range or in the lambing sheds with a misdemeanor crime.

The Senate State Affairs Committee agreed to introduce the bill Monday, to punish sheepherders who go on the lam with up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail. Helping somebody to leave their sheep would merit the same treatment, under the bill.

Idaho's sheep industry has a long history of employing foreign workers to herd its animals, starting with Basque immigrants from Spain a century ago. Now, ranchers often rely on shepherds from Peru who live in rugged circumstances in Idaho's deserts or mountains to watch over flocks and keep them safe from predators, lightning strikes and even feral dogs.

The problem now, Idaho Wool Growers Association director Stan Boyd told the panel, is foreign workers who arrive legally on visas are often enticed to leave their jobs suddenly and without warning to ranchers for more-lucrative, less-isolated work at nurseries or in landscaping.

Though such a flight may already result in them becoming an illegal immigrant, Boyd argues Idaho should pass additional laws to further induce shepherds into sticking it out — and to keep them from fleecing ranchers.

"In the middle of the night, maybe three months later, they walk off, abandon the sheep, or if they're in the lambing sheds they abandon their duties," Boyd said, adding ranchers often spend between $2,500 to $3,000, including for airfare, for foreign workers to come to the U.S. to work on federal H-2A visas for three-year periods.

"What we'd like to do is simply put in place where it's a misdemeanor if that man jumps his contract without proper notification to the employer," Boyd added. "We're just asking folks to finish their contract. Or if they don't like it, they can always be transferred to another operation, or they can go home."

The Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, which helps enforce laws governing H-2A visas, didn't immediately return a phone call Monday seeking comment about any existing civil penalties for foreign workers who don't fulfill terms of their contracts.

Boyd said none exist, though some workers who are in the United States for only a short duration of time before deciding to go back home are required to pay for their return flight.

The bill is now due a full hearing, after Monday's introduction.

Even so, some members of the Senate panel voiced initial skepticism that leaving a job without proper notice should be enough to turn a person into a criminal.

"Is there another job description in Idaho where quitting your job results in a misdemeanor?" asked Sen. Elliot Werk, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat from Boise.

Boyd said he wasn't aware of any.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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