Conservative Nebraska moves toward death penalty repeal

Reuters News
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Posted: May 20, 2015 12:46 PM

By Katie Knapp Schubert

OMAHA, Neb. (Reuters) - Conservative Nebraska moved closer on Wednesday to abolishing the death penalty with lawmakers passing a repeal with enough votes to override an expected veto from the state's governor.

Senators in the state's unicameral, nonpartisan legislature passed the repeal bill in a 32-5 vote with two abstentions. It was the third time the law has been debated and passed and it now goes on to Republican Governor Pete Ricketts. All bills in Nebraska go through three votes in the legislature.

Nebraska is heavily Republican state, both in local and national elections, and conservatives generally have supported the death penalty in the United States.

But in a two-hour debate, state lawmakers said they have turned against the death penalty for a number of reasons. They cited religious reservations, the difficulty the state has in obtaining drugs used for lethal injections, the arbitrary application of the penalty to some murderers and not others, the specter of wrongful convictions and the emotional exhaustion of the families of crime victims who endure decades of appeals by death row inmates.

"There are so many reasons why we need to eliminate the death penalty in Nebraska. It's fundamentally unfair, a terrible mistake and bad justice," said Senator Al Davis.

Senators who support the death penalty said the state would be losing a valuable tool to punish the most heinous crimes, including attacks and bombings with multiple victims.

Debate about the death penalty in the United States has been revived in recent years after a number of botched executions in which the person being executed agonized for some minutes. Also, states have struggled to obtain the drugs for lethal injections, as European suppliers refused to sell the drugs if they are being used for executions.

Most developed nations around the world have abolished the death penalty but most Americans support executions for murderers. Gallup polls show more than 60 percent of Americans are in favor of the death penalty, down from 80 percent in the mid-1990s, but still majority support.

Ricketts has signaled he will veto the bill but with more than 30 senators consistently backing it, there are enough votes to override his veto.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 18 states are without the death penalty and 32 states have it. Nebraska reinstated the death penalty in 1973, and has executed three people since 1976. There are currently 11 people on death row.

(Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Bill Trott)