Nebraska Repeals Death Penalty

By John Celock

By the bare minimum vote, Nebraska lawmakers overturned the governor’s veto and repealed the death penalty.

The 30-19 vote followed an emotional state legislative debate, which saw multiple lawmakers citing the Bible and one wavering in his support of the death penalty. Two senators reversed their earlier votes to repeal the death penalty during the debate. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) vetoed the bill on Tuesday.

“We have a twisted view of justice right now of killing people in order to teach people not to kill,” Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks (D-Lincoln) said during the debate.

Pansing Brooks told her colleagues that as an attorney she knows the costs that go into housing those on death row and that the system keeps a legal industry going that is paid for by taxpayers. She also noted that with the current national debate over the methods used on death row, faulty executions are equivalent to torture.

Sen. Beau McCoy (R-Omaha) told his colleagues about cases where he believed the death penalty was just, including the case of a child who was murdered. He noted that lawmakers needed to send a message to the state’s prison guards that they support their work by having harsh penalties in place for those who harm them.

Sen. Joni Craighead (R-Omaha) told her colleagues that she believes that all 10 currently on death row in Nebraska were “guilty” and that the death penalty was needed to protect society.

“These men do not deserve to live,” she said. “In my opinion life in prison is too good for them. Without strong laws and consequences society becomes chaotic.”

Ricketts vetoed the measure Tuesday saying that it was a matter of public safety. The repeal was introduced by Sen. Ernie Chambers (D-Omaha) and passed the Legislature 32-15 earlier this month.

Sen. Tyson Larson (R-O’Neill) gave a speech where he cited that he campaigned for the Legislature on a platform that included support for the death penalty. Noting that his “conscience weighs heavily” and that he represents the most Catholic district in Nebraska, he said he is personally debating his support. But he said he would vote to override given his previous campaign platform.

“It wasn’t until now that I really sat down and thought about it. But when I campaigned and it was an issue, I said I would support it,” Larson said. “Today I will sustain the governor’s veto because I campaigned on it. This is fair warning that this issue is alive in my heart. I am telling you now that next time this comes up it might be different. This might be the last time I give this state the right to take a life, I don’t think they necessarily should. I owe it to the people who I told on the campaign.”

Chambers told his colleagues that they should not be afraid to vote to abolish the death penalty.

“I don’t know one person in the 40 years I’ve been here who has been turned out of office because of a vote against the death penalty,” he said.