LINCOLN — The Legislature will continue its extra scrutiny of the state’s corrections system.
On a 28-11 vote Thursday, lawmakers approved formation of the Nebraska Justice System Special Oversight Committee.
It is the third special committee formed by the Legislature since 2014 to look into chronic problems within the state prison system. The problems include overcrowded prisons and the inability to retain staff.
Recently, two inmates were killed during an uprising at the Tecumseh State Prison and an inmate was slain in a double-bunked solitary confinement cell there. The World-Herald also revealed that 73 inmates have refused to provide DNA samples as required by law.
State Corrections Director Scott Frakes had opposed formation of another special committee, but supporters of the idea said Thursday that steps will be taken to ensure that the department is not overburdened with requests for data and testimony.
Unlike the two previous prison investigative committees, the new oversight committee would not have power to subpoena witnesses or to hire special legal counsel.
Legislative Resolution 127, introduced by State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, calls for a briefing in December on preliminary findings and a final report in December 2018.
During debate Thursday, Sen. Tyson Larson of Bloomfield criticized former Sen. Steve Lathrop for his work as a special counsel for the last prison oversight committee, saying he used the position to “score political points.”
A group of senators disputed that, saying that Lathrop, who led the first prison investigative committee, was doing his job, as directed by lawmakers on the panel.
Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher said that Lathrop, a trial attorney, saved precious time for state lawmakers and Corrections Department personnel by asking focused questions at hearings.
“He is an extremely effective questioner who was highly informed about the issue,” Schumacher said.