Nebraska on Wednesday abolished the death penalty, which has been a central plank of conservative justice issues. State legislators fought back a veto from Nebraska’s Governor Pete Ricketts. The measure was backed by a coalition who oppose execution as a form of punishment. Nebraska becomes the 19th state to ban capital punishment, which includes the federal district of Washington DC. They become the first conservative state in the past 40 years to ban capital punishment. The last execution was in 1997 in which they used electrocution.
The legislation passed 30 to 19, the needed vote count to override Governor Ricketts prior veto. Governor Ricketts vetoed the bill, arguing that the state should at least have the opportunity to pursue capital punishment to protect the public when necessary. Republicans traditionally supported the death penalty, endorsing the option in the GOP’s platform for those convicted of capital murder. Recently, the Republican Party has become soft on capital punishment. Both Senator Rand Paul and mega donors Charles and David Koch have argued that the GOP needs to change its tune on criminal justice issues. A CNN/ORC poll last month, only 27% of respondents said they felt the death penalty constituted “cruel and unusual” punishment.
The state has come close to repealing the death penalty several times before Wednesday. Lawmakers voted to ban executions in 1979, but the governor vetoed the bill. In 1999, a temporary moratorium was also vetoed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, and in 2007, a death penalty ban came one vote short of passing. Not all of Nebraska’s Republicans are supportive of the repeal.
My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families,” Governor Ricketts said in a statement. While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue.” Ricketts announced this month that the state has purchased two of the drugs that the state now lacks, but opponents have said they still aren’t convinced Nebraska will be able to resume executions.
Nebraska Senator Beau McCoy announced the formation of a group called Nebraskans for Justice, which is fighting to see a ballot initiative to allow citizens to decide whether the death penalty should be legal in the state.”With the formation of Nebraskans for Justice, I am standing with Nebraskans who are thoroughly disappointed with Nebraska Legislators who voted to end Nebraska’s death penalty,” McCoy said. “Once again, Nebraska’s Legislature has gone against the wishes of an overwhelming number of Nebraskans who believe the death penalty should be in place for those who commit the most heinous crimes.”
The repeal bill was introduced by independent Sen. Ernie Chambers, who has fought for nearly four decades to repeal the death penalty. Nebraska has yet to carry out an execution under its current lethal injection protocol.