State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha says Gage County violated the Nebraska Constitution by contracting to house some of its jail inmates across the state line in Kansas.
Chambers has asked Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson to weigh in on the contract approved last month by the Gage County Board of Supervisors.
The one-year deal reserves 10 beds in the Washington County, Kansas, jail for Gage County inmates. A similar agreement was approved with Dawson County in central Nebraska to reserve five additional beds.
In a letter sent Wednesday, Chambers alleged that it’s a violation of the Nebraska Constitution to transport an inmate to another state for any offense committed in Nebraska.
“Obviously, any person in the Gage County jail committed an offense within the state,” he wrote. “Such a person shall not be transported out of the state for such an offense. No contract can nullify the Nebraska Constitution.”
Chambers went on to say it’s a “bit much” to use Nebraskans’ tax dollars to pay another state when no product is received and called on Peterson defend the state Constitution.
“As Nebraska’s top lawyer, do you have any interest in seeing that the Constitution of Nebraska is not so flagrantly violated?” Chambers wrote. "Or are you of the legal opinion that a person lawfully may ‘be transported out of the state for an offense committed within the state?’”
Gage County Board Chairman Myron Dorn declined to comment on Chambers' claim, but did say Gage County isn’t the first in Nebraska to house inmates across state lines. He cited Red Willow County as one example.
A worker at the Red Willow County Sheriff’s Department said that county's inmates haven’t been housed in Kansas for three to five years.
Recently, Gage County inmates have been held in as many as seven different counties in Nebraska and Kansas — wherever open cells were available.
Talks of contracting with jails intensified this summer as the number of inmates reached double the Gage County jail’s capacity of about 27.
The board approved the contracts 5-1, with Gary Lytle voting in opposition and Matt Bauman absent.
Roger Harris, who serves as the Gage County Attorney, did not return calls Friday.