Nebraska Abolishes Death Penalty with Override of Gov. Ricketts’ Veto
LINCOLN, Neb., May 27 (UPI) — The Nebraska legislature abolished the use of capital punishment Wednesday by voting to override Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of a bill to repeal the death penalty.
The legislature voted 30-19 in a bipartisan move to override Ricketts’ veto, which he signed Tuesday. At least 30 votes were needed for the override.
Ricketts is a staunch supporter of the death penalty, saying it strengthens public safety and prevents convicted murders from being released into the public.
He tweeted that he was “appalled” by the vote.
“While the legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this issue,” he said.
The legislature approved the bill three times, each time with a veto-proof majority, before it was sent to Ricketts, The New York Times reported.
Nebraska’s unicameral legislature is majority Republican, and the repeal makes it the first conservative state to end capital punishment in more than 40 years. Eighteen other states and Washington, D.C., have also banned the death penalty.
The death penalty has been undergoing some reconsideration in the United States within the last several months after states started running out of the traditional drugs used for lethal injections.
The Supreme Court is set to decide whether midazolam, an anti-anxiety drug and depressant, violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bans “cruel and unusual punishments.” It’s the first time the Supreme Court has revisited the issue of lethal injection since 2008, when justices upheld the use of a three-drug lethal-injection cocktail.
The case is of particular importance because midazolam has become the last-chance execution drug for many states. Beginning in about 2008, the pharmaceutical companies that make thiopental and pentobarbital — the first choice in execution drugs — cut back their availability for executions. Some states have been getting the first-choice drugs from compounding pharmacies instead, but supplies are running short. If midazolam is found unconstitutional, states may be forced to look to other methods of execution.
In April, Oklahoma approved the use of nitrogen gas as a means for execution if lethal injection drugs aren’t available or are ruled to be unconstitutional. Utah approved the use of a firing squad in March.
“Americans have been moving away from executions for more than 10 years, but now we have a red state turning that trend into law for the first time in 40 years,” said Shari Silberstein, executive director of Equal Justice USA. “Nebraska has shown the nation what happens when you put aside partisan politics and embrace simple common sense. The death penalty was already on its last legs, but it’s hard to imagine that it has any staying power left after this.”
There are currently 10 inmates on death row in Nebraska, and the state hasn’t executed anyone since 1997.