June 28, 2009 in City

Lewiston fights for inmate labor

Attorney general calls practice illegal
Associated Press
 

LEWISTON – The Idaho attorney general said the city of Lewiston has been using inmate labor in violation of public works contractor laws and wants the practice stopped.

The city, however, is disputing conclusions drawn by Deputy Attorney General Patrick J. Grace, who represents the Idaho Division of Building Safety.

“The Division of Building Safety has received numerous complaints,” Grace wrote last month.

But the city contends the projects where inmates are involved are being done by city employees, with inmates brought in for manual labor.

City Attorney Don L. Roberts told the Lewiston Tribune, “I do not believe the public works contracting law or … Idaho Code prohibits the city from determining who they should hire for temporary or part-time employees.”

Talks between the two sides continue, but Roberts said attorney general’s opinions like the one from Grace aren’t binding on the city.

If agreement isn’t reached, a hearing can be conducted by the Public Works Licensing Board and that decision would be binding, although it could be appealed by either side.

The issue arose after several contractors in recent months protested the city’s decision not to put projects out to bid. The city argues some work can be done more cheaply by doing the work internally, though it frequently takes longer.

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