BOISE The bill that would allow inmates to work in all areas of agriculture has been sent to the Idaho House floor with a do-pass recommendation.
The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee met Feb. 9 on Senate Bill 1208. The bill was approved by the Senate the previous week.
While the committee ultimately voted overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, S1208 did generate concern about the wages paid to inmate workers and their insurance coverage.
“These (people) are working a long, hard, eight-hour day… so are you going to pay them more?” asked Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth.
Andrea Sprengel, the Idaho Correctional Industries financial manager who helps with the program, said they are working on it.
“We feel like this is a good time to reevaluate that wage and increase that for the inmates,” Sprengel said.
Inmates in Idaho currently receive around $2 per hour as wages, though that does not reflect what employers pay. Sprengel said employers must pay similar costs per inmate worker as they would for a non-inmate worker.
“This is done to ensure that no discounts are given for using inmate labor, and it helps to discourage non-inmate worker displacement,” she said.
Kathy Griesmeyer, the public policy strategist of the Idaho American Civil Liberties Union, also spoke on the bill, saying ACLU has concerns about insurance. She said ACLU has not taken an official stance on S1208.
“We certainly recognize the importance of prisoners being able to learn a trade, to get out and work, to have access to earn wages and provide for themselves and their families and make sure they’re successful once they’re released and return back to our community,” Griesmeyer said. “But we also want to make sure that if they are injured while they’re working, that they are able to still have some protections in place.”
The committee considered a motion to send the bill to General Orders for amendments, ensuring inmates would be properly protected if the legislation passed. However, another option was to have a “trailer bill” address the concerns. When asked, bill sponsor Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said she would prefer the trailer bill so S1208 could be passed quickly.
“There’s work that has to be done with correctional industries and employers and they could be working on getting that done and we could get a trailer bill,” she said.
Lodge said the bill could be ready this session, and the committee voted to send the bill forward. Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, spoke last on the bill, voicing her support and referencing how the bill could benefit inmates, the agriculture industry and the state.
“It feels like, from all the comments that we’ve already had, that there’s political will and desire to make it win-win-win — maybe there’s three wins here — and to protect the safety of the workers as well as helping our agriculture industry,” Wintrow said. “So I feel hopeful about that.”
Nina Rydalch covers the 2018 Idaho Legislature for the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research.