The state has enough votes to override a promised veto from Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts
(LINCOLN, Neb.) — Nebraska lawmakers gave final approval on Wednesday to a bill abolishing the death penalty with enough votes to override a promised veto from Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The vote was 32 to 15 in Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature.
If that vote holds in a veto override, Nebraska would become the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973.
The Nebraska vote is notable in the national debate over capital punishment because it was bolstered by conservatives who oppose the death penalty for religious reasons and say it is a waste of taxpayer money.
Nebraska hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1997, and some lawmakers have argued that constant legal challenges will prevent the state from doing so again.
Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, a death penalty supporter, has vowed to veto the bill. Ricketts announced last week that the state has bought new lethal injection drugs to resume executions.
Ricketts, who is serving his first year in office, argued in his weekly column Tuesday that the state’s inability to carry out executions was a “management problem” that he is committed to fixing.
Maryland was the last state to end capital punishment, in 2013. Three other moderate to liberal states have done so in recent years: New Mexico in 2009, Illinois in 2011, Connecticut in 2012. The death penalty is legal in 32 states, including Nebraska.
Independent Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who sponsored the Nebraska legislation, has fought for four decades to end capital punishment in the state.
Nebraska lawmakers passed a death-penalty repeal bill once before, in 1979, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Charles Thone.