- Associated Press - Friday, March 7, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A bill that would allow Idaho farmers to use prison-inmate labor when there is a farmworker shortage is before the Idaho state Senate.

The bill would allow inmates to help grow, harvest or process perishable Idaho farm commodities.

State Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, the bill’s author, said fruit growers in southwestern Idaho have struggled to find enough workers in recent years. A lot of pears in the Sunny Slope region near Caldwell went unpicked last year, she said.

The Capital Press (http://bit.ly/1lGgwBu) reports that some of the inmates’ earnings would help offset the cost of transportation and security.

“This would help us make sure we get our perishable Idaho crops harvested” in the event of worker shortages, Lodge said.

“They have to be picked within a certain amount of time,” said Lodge, who owns Wind Ridge Vineyards near Caldwell.

The bill was welcomed by Dan Symms of Symms Fruit Ranch, which grows apples, peaches, cherries, plums, apricots and prunes in the Sunny Slope area.

Some of Symms’ fruit went unpicked two years ago because of a lack of labor, and the operation struggled to get everything picked last year, he said.

“It would be a plus for us to be able to have that labor available to us,” Symms said.

Lodge said the program would help reduce costs to the state and society because some of an inmate’s earnings would go into a fund that would be used to pay restitution, child support and other court-ordered legal judgments. Some of the money would go into commissary funds, and some would be set aside to help inmates get a fresh start when they are released.

The bill stipulates that the use of inmate labor cannot result in employed workers in the region being displaced.

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Information from: The Capital Press (Ore.), http://the capital press (ore.)

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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