Nebraska Legislature Abolishes the Death Penalty, Overriding Governor’s Veto

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Nebraska State Senators Rick Kolowski (left) and Ernie Chambers (right) celebrate the override of the governor’s veto.
Source: Joe Duggan, Paul Hammel and Martha Stoddard, “Hours of Suspense, Emotion Lead up to a Landmark Vote for Legislatures on Repealing Death Penalty,” omaha.com, May 28, 2015

On May 27, 2015 the Nebraska state legislature voted 30 to 19 to override the governor’s veto of LB268, a bill to abolish the death penalty that was introduced by Sen. Ernie Chambers from North Omaha’s 11th District.

With the override of Republican Governor Pete Ricketts’s veto, Nebraska became the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty in over 40 years. The last conservative state that banned capital punishment was North Dakota in 1973.

Governor Ricketts had argued in favor of retaining the death penalty, stating that “repealing the death penalty sends the wrong message to Nebraskans who overwhelming support capital punishment and look to government to strengthen public safety not weaken it.” After his veto was overridden, he stated that he was “appalled” at the loss of “a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families.”

During the last floor debate over the bill on Apr. 16, Sen. Chambers stated that the United States was the last remaining western democracy to still retain the death penalty, and that the risk of executing the innocent makes ending capital punishment necessary. He stated that “over 150 people in the last few years have been taken off death row because they were innocent. I know there are people who want to believe that no innocent person has ever been executed in this country. But when you have this many people conclusively proved by DNA evidence to be actually innocent, there is no escaping the conclusion that innocent people have been executed.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, Senator Chambers has tried to repeal the death penalty 37 times throughout his legislative career.

Including the state of Nebraska, there are now 19 states where the death penalty has been abolished. In 31 states the death penalty remains legal for crimes including murder, treason, and espionage. The federal government continues to retain the death penalty for 41 different capital offenses.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 63% of the US public supports the death penalty.

Sources:

Julie Bosman, “Nebraska Bans Death Penalty, Defying a Veto,” nytimes.com, May 27, 2015

Joe Duggan, Paul Hammel and Martha Stoddard, “Hours of Suspense, Emotion Lead up to a Landmark Vote for Legislatures on Repealing Death Penalty,” omaha.com, May 28, 2015

Gallup, “Death Penalty,” gallup.com (accessed May 28, 2015)

Michael Muskal, “Why Conservative Nebraska Seems Determined to Repeal the Death Penalty,” latimes.com, May 26, 2015

Office of Governor Pete Ricketts, “Gov. Ricketts Condemns the Legislature’s Decision to Repeal the Death Penalty,” governor.nebraska.gov, May 27, 2015

Office of Governor Pete Ricketts, “Gov. Ricketts’ Vetoes Death Penalty,” governor.nebraska.gov, May 26, 2015

Transcript of Nebraska legislature floor debate, legislature.ne.gov, Apr. 16, 2015