The mostly Republican Legislature of the mostly Republican state of Nebraska voted Wednesday to ban capital punishment by a margin that’s likely to withstand the governor’s veto.
The Omaha World-Herald explains how a state that ranks as the nation’s fifth-most conservative—a state that has a GOP governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, and auditor, as well as two Republican U.S. senators, two out of three Republican members of Congress, and nearly 3-to-1 GOP representation in the statehouse—voted overwhelmingly to stop putting convicts to death:
Lawmakers voted 32-15 Wednesday to give third-round approval to Legislative Bill 268, which replaces lethal injection with a maximum punishment of life in prison. A minimum of 30 votes is needed to override a veto.
As they did during the second round of debate, opponents once again filibustered the bill in an attempt to derail it for the session. But lawmakers voted 34-14 to cut off debate.
Gov. Pete Ricketts had opposed the move, warning legislators that a vote for the bill was “a vote to repeal the death penalty and to give our state’s most heinous criminals more lenient sentences.” Ricketts—who just last month directed the state to purchase a new bitch’s brew of lethal-injection drugs to replace traditional ones that suppliers have decided to withhold from death-penalty states—is expected to veto the bill. But unless some lawmakers flip to his side, he will be overridden, and state-sanctioned execution will become a thing of the past in Nebraska, where 11 men await lethal injection.
Republicans offered a variety of reasons for supporting the death penalty’s end, from the high cost of administering executions to the surprisingly uncommon idea that it’s important to be consistent in support for human life. “I’m pro-life from conception until when God calls somebody home,” state Sen. Tommy Garrett told the World-Herald. “I’m not going to quibble over innocent life versus those who are guilty for what they have done. This is a matter of conscience.”
Independent Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha spearheaded the bill, having spent decades unsuccessfully rallying against capital punishment, including a proposed ban that was vetoed by the governor back in 1979.
Here is an AP photo of Chambers debating the death penalty in the Legislature last week:
And in 2013:
And in 2009:
And in 2008:
And in 2007:
And in 2002:
“The record should be crystal clear on what it is we are doing; it is historic,” Chambers—a civil rights activist who was the first* African American senator in Nebraska—told the World-Herald today. “We have the opportunity to take one small step for the Legislature, a giant leap for civilization.”
[Photos: AP Images]