Nebraska may repeal death penalty amid lethal drug shortage

Started by Rick4404, April 26, 2015, 12:36:59 AM

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Nebraska came one step closer last Thursday to passing a death penalty repeal bill. Members of the state's unicameral legislative body are debating a death penalty repeal bill once again this session. The bill cleared first round debate on a 30-13 vote. Under Nebraska's unique way of legislating, the bill must advance through one more separate round of debate and then be adopted on final passage before it is presented to the governor for his signature or rejection by veto.  Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has already promised to veto the bill if it reaches his desk, and he's asked legislative leaders to reconsider the repeal effort.

The sponsor of the Nebraska measure, Sen. Ernie Chambers, who represents the 11th legislative district which encompasses a large residential section of north Omaha, has fought for four decades to abolish capital punishment and has introduced a death penalty repeal bill each year that he has been in the Legislature. The Legislature passed a repeal measure once, in 1979, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Thone.

This is the furthest that one of Chambers' death penalty repeal bills has gotten since 1979.

An amendment to Chambers' repeal bill was introduced by another senator, but was subsequently withdrawn during the first round debate, which would have replaced lethal injection with death by firing squad as the means of execution in Nebraska.

Nebraska is the only state in the country which has a unicameral, or one-house, legislative body.  Since there are not the usual two legislative chambers (a House of Representatives and a Senate) in Nebraska, the Unicameral must check and balance itself.  This is why Nebraska's constitution requires that each bill and resolution that the Unicameral considers must go through two separate rounds of debate and voting on the floor of the Legislature before the bill or resolution comes up one last time on the floor for final reading and vote.

Thursday's 30-13 vote would be enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.  Two-thirds of the members of the 49-member legislative body would have to vote to override a veto.   

Nebraska may repeal death penalty amid drug shortage

Associated Press
Updated 4/16/2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Nebraska is considering repealing the death penalty amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs, with legislation to eliminate capital punishment clearing a major hurdle Thursday.

Lawmakers voted 30-13 to advance the bill that would replace capital punishment with life imprisonment in first-degree murder cases. If that support holds, death penalty opponents would have enough votes to override Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts' promised veto.

A coalition of Republicans who voted for the bill cast the death penalty as a wasteful and bungling government program, but Ricketts released a statement urging them to reconsider.

Nebraska hasn't executed anyone since 1997 and has no way to carry out sentences for the 11 men sitting on death row because its supply of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic that's part of its execution protocol, expired in December 2013. Ricketts and Republican Attorney General Doug Peterson have vowed to find a solution, but the Department of Correctional Services has yet to obtain a new supply.

Death penalty states across the nation have been forced to find new drugs and new suppliers because pharmaceutical companies, many of which of which are based in Europe, have stopped selling them for executions. Some states are looking at alternatives. Tennessee passed a law last year to reinstate the electric chair if it can't get lethal injection drugs, and Utah has reinstated the firing squad as a backup method.

In Oklahoma, lawmakers have sent the governor a bill that would allow the state to use nitrogen gas hypoxia. That comes as executions there are on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether the state's three-drug method of lethal injection is constitutional. Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming joined Alabama in a court filing Wednesday urging the court to uphold the use of the sedative midazolam in executions.

If Nebraska's repeal passes, the state would join six others that have abolished the death penalty since 2000. The Delaware Senate voted last month to end capital punishment, but the bill faces an uphill battle in the House.

The Nebraska vote reflects a growing sentiment among some conservative residents that the state will never execute an inmate again.

"The question of the death penalty has been moving from one of whether you find it morally justifiable to one of whether you trust the government to carry it out properly," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that is critical of how the death penalty is carried out.

The bill must advance through two more rounds of voting in the one-house, nonpartisan Legislature, and death penalty supporters are still working to block the legislation.

"I would say that those who favor getting rid of the death penalty have a long ways to go until they're going to have this bill cross the finish line," Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, an outspoken death penalty supporter, said.

Death penalty supporters peppered Thursday's debate with tales of gruesome killings, calling the death penalty a just response to crimes such as a 2002 bank robbery in Norfolk in which five people were killed.

"Our days are numbered, and when you're a criminal who commits a crime, you have numbered your days and that warrants the death penalty," said Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte.

Most Americans still favor the death penalty for prisoners convicted of murder, but the support has reached a 40-year low, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. The survey found that 56 percent of people support the death penalty in cases of murder, while 38 percent remain opposed.

The sponsor of the Nebraska measure, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, has fought for four decades to abolish capital punishment. The Legislature passed a repeal measure once, in 1979, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Charles Thone.
2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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