BOISE — An immigration-related bill that some Idaho farm groups worried could have a chilling effect on much of the state’s agricultural workforce has struggled to gain traction in the Idaho Legislature.
A House joint memorial that asks Congress to ensure that foreign food products imported into the United States meet the same food safety standards that domestic farmers and food processors must meet is also struggling.
But a bill that would codify into state law a landmark Idaho Supreme Court decision on who owns in-stream stock watering rights on federal land is sailing through the Legislature with little opposition.
That bill passed the Senate by a 34-0 vote and has been sent to the House. If passed by that body and signed into law by the governor, it could benefit thousands of ranchers in Idaho who own cattle that graze on federal land.
Idaho’s top court ruled in 2007 that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management can’t own in-stream stock watering rights because the agency doesn’t own cattle and therefore can’t put the water to beneficial use.
Senate Bill 1111 would allow thousands of Idaho ranchers to potentially file for those rights.
The immigration bill stalled after facing opposition from some farm groups that worried it could discourage some of the industry’s foreign-born labor force to look to other states for employment.
The bill sought to prevent so-called sanctuary cities from being established in Idaho by allowing the state to withhold funding from them if they were. Sanctuary cities are municipalities that discourage cooperation with federal immigration agencies.
After meeting with ag groups opposed to the bill, its sponsor, Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, rewrote it and dropped provisions that farm groups believe would have required law enforcement officers to hold anyone arrested for up to 48 hours for further checks if they could not prove legal residence.
But House Bill 198 has sat in the House State Affairs Committee since Feb. 22 and with the 2017 session nearing its homestretch, it’s unlikely the bill will advance, Chaney said.
“As of right now, no hearing date has been set,” he said. “As time winds down (in the session), it becomes less likely.”
After the bill was re-written to try to address concerns from the agricultural industry, some of the enthusiasm from its initial supporters was lost, Chaney said.
“In the end, we weren’t able to come up with language that everybody was comfortable with,” he said.
Some of Idaho’s main farm groups were concerned about language in House Joint Memorial 1 that they believed was inaccurate, including language about country of origin labeling.
The memorial’s author, Canyon County farmer Sid Freeman, worked with those groups to change some of the language and the memorial has been reintroduced as HJM6.
The rewritten memorial passed the House unanimously March 14 and has moved to the Senate.
Freeman believes there is still enough time in the legislative session to get it passed.
“I think we’ll get it done,” he said.