Conservative Nebraska moves toward death penalty repeal

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Nebraska Drops Death Penalty


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.

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Conservative Nebraska moves toward death penalty repeal
State Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, left, and Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, right, and Jeremy Nordquist, top right, celebrate after the Nebraska legislature voted to abolish the death penalty on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Senators in the one-house Legislature voted 30-19 to override Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who supports the death penalty. The vote makes Nebraska the first traditionally conservative state to eliminate the punishment since North Dakota in 1973. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Spectators in the balcony applaud after the Nebraska Legislature voted to abolish the death penalty on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Senators in the one-house Legislature voted 30-19 to override Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who supports the death penalty. The vote makes Nebraska the first traditionally conservative state to eliminate the punishment since North Dakota in 1973. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, right, celebrates with Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln after the one-house Legislature voted 30-19 to override Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who supports the death penalty. The vote makes Nebraska the first traditionally conservative state to eliminate the punishment since North Dakota in 1973. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Neb. state Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha speaks before the Legislature voted 30-19 to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of a death penalty repeal bill, in a vote that made it the first traditionally conservative state to abolish capital punishment in more than four decades. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nebraska lawmakers, including Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, center, and Sen Beau McCoy of Omaha, center rear, follow the vote to abolish the death penalty on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Senators in the one-house Legislature voted 30-19 to override Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who supports the death penalty. The vote makes Nebraska the first traditionally conservative state to eliminate the punishment since North Dakota in 1973. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
In this May 27, 2015, photo, Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha speaks in Lincoln, Neb., during debate on overriding Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of a death penalty repeal bill. Death penalty supporters are looking to challenge the Nebraska Legislature's landmark repeal vote, and Sen. McCoy is also considering a ballot initiative to reinstate capital punishment. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Neb. state Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha smiles during a debate before lawmakers gave final approval to a bill abolishing the death penalty with enough votes to override a promised veto from Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts. The 32-15 vote on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, in Lincoln, Neb., was bolstered by conservative senators who oppose capital punishment for fiscal, religious and pragmatic reasons. on a bill to abolish the death penalty. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Neb. state Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, center, laughs in the Legislative Chamber with Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis, left, and Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha, right, after lawmakers gave final approval to his bill to abolish the death penalty with enough votes to override a promised veto from Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts. The 32-15 vote on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, in Lincoln, Neb., was bolstered by conservative senators who oppose capital punishment for fiscal, religious and pragmatic reasons. At rear is Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, an opponent of the bill. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
State Sen. Ernie Chambers, of Omaha, standing center, follows the vote on his bill abolishing the death penalty, which passed with enough votes to override a promised veto from Gov. Pete Ricketts, Wednesday, May 20, 2015, in Lincoln, Neb. The 32-15 vote was bolstered by conservative senators who oppose capital punishment for fiscal, religious and pragmatic reasons. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Neb. state Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, left, bumps forearms with Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus after lawmakers gave final approval to a bill abolishing the death penalty with enough votes to override a promised veto from Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts. The 32-15 vote on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, in Lincoln, Neb., was bolstered by conservative senators who oppose capital punishment for fiscal, religious and pragmatic reasons. on a bill to abolish the death penalty. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Neb. Gov. Pete Ricketts gestures during a news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Gov. Ricketts voiced his opposition to a bill to abolish the death penalty which is up for a final vote before the Legislature on Wednesday, and promised to veto the bill should it pass. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha speaks during second-round debate, Friday, May 15, 2015, at the Legislature in Lincoln, Neb., on a bill to abolish the death penalty. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
The board in the Legislative Chamber shows a 30 aye,16 nay vote with two abstaining, on a bill to abolish the death penalty, following second-round debate, Friday, May 15, 2015, at the Legislature in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nebraska lawmakers sit in the dark Legislative Chamber during second-round debate, Friday, May 15, 2015, in Lincoln, Neb., on a bill to abolish the death penalty. The Chamber was dark due to heavy storm clouds passing through the area. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
State Sen. Beau McCoy, center, of Omaha, speaks during second-round debate, Friday, May 15, 2015, at the Legislature in Lincoln, Neb., on a bill to abolish the death penalty, as state Sens. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, left, and Dan Hughes of Venango, right, listen. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
FILE - This July 7, 2010 file photo shows Nebraska's lethal injection chamber at the State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Neb. There’s not a lot of sympathy for the 11 men on death row in Nebraska, but spurred by frustration about the growing difficulty and cost of carrying out executions, lawmakers are considering eliminating the death penalty. (AP Photo/Nate Jenkins, File)
Miriam Thimm Kelle, left, whose brother James Thimm was tortured and killed on a southeast Nebraska farm in 1985, is hugged by Byron Peterson of Scottsbluff, after she testified in favor of a law proposal to change the death penalty to life imprisonment without parole, during a hearing before the Judiciary Committee in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, March 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nebraska state senators take a break from debating the repeal of the death penalty to recognize visiting students in the visitor's gallery in Lincoln, Neb., Monday, May 13, 2013. Supporters of a repeal of the death penalty measure initiated a "test vote" on Monday to publicly gauge their backing. The vote suggested that 26 of the 49 state senators support the repeal, while 18 want to keep the death penalty in place. Five did not vote. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
State Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha reviews LB 306, a bill introduced by her to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska, during a first round debate, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010, at the State Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. (AP Photo/Bill Wolf)
Miriam Thimm Kelle, whose brother James Thimm was killed and tortured by death row inmate Michael Ryan, follows debate in the balcony of the legislative chamber in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, May 19, 2009. Nebraska is one step closer to a legal means of executing prisoners, as lawmakers Tuesday gave first-round approval to a bill that would make lethal injection the state's sole method. Miriam Thimm Kelle opposes the death penalty. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Former state Sen. Ernie Chambers, right, testifies before the Judiciary Committee on (LB36), a measure that would allow Nebraska to put inmates to death with lethal injection, in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009. Chambers said that Nebraska could put inmates to death with rat poison or pesticide if lawmakers approve (LB36), a measure to change the state's method of execution to lethal injection.(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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"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)

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