Nebraska legislature votes to abolish death penalty

Courtesy STATE Weekly

Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday to abolish the death penalty by a big enough margin to override a threatened veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The measure passed 32 to 15 in the state’s unicameral legislature. It would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison.

If lawmakers override the expected veto, Nebraska would become the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.
The repeal vote was bolstered by conservatives who oppose the death penalty for religious reasons and say it is a waste of taxpayer money, the newspaper reports.
Stacy Anderson, head of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty said, the organization was “thrilled” to get support from across the political and ideological spectrum for abolishing capital punishment, NTV reports.
“Nebraska’s death penalty is broken,” Anderson said. “It is time to let it go and refocus on meaningful responses to violence.”

Although the Nebraska legislature is formally a non-partisan body, Republicans in practice hold 36 of the 49 seats.

Even in the final run-up to vote, Ricketts issued a statement saying there is “overwhelming support” for keeping the death penalty, warning that its repeal would “give our state’s most heinous criminal more lenient sentences.”

“This isn’t rhetoric,” he said in a statement. “This is reality.”

The opposition to capital punishment was spurred in part by a ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court in 2008 that the electric chair was cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional. The state then adopted lethal injection, but like many states, had problems acquiring the drugs.

Ricketts, a supporter of the death penalty, announced last week that the state had purchased new lethal injection drugs to resume executions.