Nov 20, 2023

Controversy over barring Nebraska ‘inspectors general’ from accessing agency data to be debated

Posted Nov 20, 2023 5:00 PM
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Law (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Paul Hammel

Nebraska Examiner

LINCOLN — The controversy over barring legislatively created inspectors general from accessing information from executive branch agencies will be debated in a special panel discussion Monday.

Nebraska Attorney General Mike Hilgers will be joined by State Sen. Danielle Conrad, University of Nebraska College of Law professor Anthony Schutz and Jennifer Carter, the Inspector General for Child Welfare, in a discussion at noon Monday at the NU law school.

In August, Hilgers sparked the controversy when his office issued a legal opinion casting doubt whether inspectors general appointed by the Legislature had authority to probe problems in state prisons and child welfare cases.

The 38-page opinion, requested by the Nebraska Department of Corrections, stated that the inspectors general violated the separation of powers clause of the State Constitution and impaired the powers of the Executive Branch and state judiciary to govern their operations.

The State Legislature had created the two inspectors general offices to probe problems within the state prison system and cases of abuse and neglect involving state wards, and report their findings to state lawmakers.

There have been two deadly riots within state prisons in recent years, and Nebraska’s prisons have been the most overcrowded in the nation. The child welfare system has seen trouble associated with attempts to privatize it.

Conrad, a former head of the ACLU of Nebraska — which had sued the state over the overcrowding issue — questioned Hilger’s legal conclusions when the opinion was issued in August.

Since the opinion was issued, the two inspectors general offices have been blocked from accessing information that they had previously had easy access to, including information about the recent death of a prison inmate at the Tecumseh State Prison.

The panel discussion, which is open to the public, will be moderated by Eric Berger, a professor at the NU College of Law.

The event is sponsored by the NU law school’s chapters of the American Constitution Society and Federalist Society.