Legislature starts debate on proposal to repeal death penalty

Started by heidi salazar, January 20, 2010, 10:50:10 PM

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heidi salazar

Legislature starts debate on proposal to repeal death penalty

Nebraska state senators resoundingly turned down a proposal by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council to determine the costs of carrying out the death penalty in the state.

Senators had opened the day debating repeal of the death penalty with a bill (LB306) that would substitute a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. That debate began with bill proponents talking about the need to know the costs of death penalty cases to Nebraska taxpayers.

Other states had figured out the costs, Council said. Nebraskans should know, too.

A little more than 90 minutes into that debate, Omaha Sen. Brenda Council filed a replacement amendment to direct state Auditor Mike Foley to find and report on those costs.

Saying she absolutely supported repealing the death penalty, and didn't personally care if carrying out a death sentence cost nothing, Council said taxpayers needed to know the costs to determine if the state was wisely spending taxpayer dollars.

The amendment required what Council called a responsible and objective audit that would have included costs to the attorney general's office, the Department of Corrections, counties where trials occur, public defenders, the Center for Public Advocacy, court-appointed attorneys, appeals courts and district courts.

But Speaker Mike Flood said the amendment changed the debate, and should have been introduced as a separate bill with a hearing.

Council maintains capital cases are enormously expensive and wasteful, when a cash-strapped state could use the money in more effective ways to keep the public safe.

Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad said the number of sworn officers in the Nebraska State Patrol has gone down since 2002 from 525 to 505 in 2009 and a proposed 488 this year. And the Nebraska crime lab needs more resources to overcome serious problems with the ability to carry out its role in investigation of crimes.

But some senators who support the death penalty said knowing the costs wouldn't matter to them, or change their minds about having it.

The state has the right and the duty to impose the death penalty for certain heinous crimes, said Flood, whose district experienced a capital crime in 2002 - the murders of five people in a Norfolk bank. The ringleader in that crime, Jose Sandoval, was eventually convicted of killing seven people, he said.

Trying to compare costs of capital crimes to other murder cases doesn't make sense because cases are so different, Flood said.

The human costs of those crimes are just as important in deciding use of the death penalty, he said.

Supporters of Council's amendment said senators should never be afraid of information.

Council said there is discussion about others taking on the proposal to find out the costs, amending it and introducing it as a standalone bill.

Knowing the costs may not change minds in the Legislature, she said, but it might change minds among taxpayers.



Update: Lawmakers Nix Request for Death Penalty Info

Nebraska lawmakers have turned down a proposal to study the costs of imposing the death penalty.

They voted down the plan from state Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha on Wednesday. She had asked lawmakers to consider it instead of her bill (LB306) to repeal the death penalty.

Her plan would have required the state auditor to study costs.

Opponents of the idea said it would be difficult to collect the information. They also said it wouldn't change people's positions on the death penalty.

Supporters said the perennial debate over the death penalty has lacked cost-related information.

The state Supreme Court deemed the electric chair cruel and unusual punishment in 2008, but lawmakers have since approved lethal injection as a replacement.



Senator Brenda Council's bill to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska is still alive. Legislative Bill 306, which she introduced last year, was carried over to this year's session. It is presently at the first stop of Nebraska's legislative process, general file. Speaker Mike Flood said the bill will be scheduled for thorough debate this year. A pending motion filed by Council herself is a motion to indefinitely postpone LB306. In Nebraska, if a bill is indefinitely postponed, it has the effect of killing the legislation.

I wonder if Council is finally seeing some reason here and she realizes that getting a repeal bill all the way through the legislative process is for the most part, insurmountable? Stay tuned.

This is a link to recent actions taken on the bill: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/view_bill.php?DocumentID=6794

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