On Wednesday, Nebraska’s battle over the death penalty came down to a single vote, with Republican Governor Pete Ricketts first vetoing a death penalty ban on Tuesday before the Nebraska Legislature, with significant support by conservatives, voted 30 to 19 to override his veto and abolish the death penalty in the state. The New York Times notes that Nebraska is the first conservative state to ban the death penalty since South Dakota did so in 1973.
After he had vetoed the bill, Governor Ricketts attempted an aggressive lobbying campaign in an effort to convince state senators who had voted for the ban to change their votes. Of the 32 senators who had voted to send the death penalty ban to Governor Ricketts’ desk, two modified their positions as a result of Ricketts’ lobbying. However, the Nebraska Legislature needed exactly 30 votes to override the veto and hit that benchmark precisely. Senators John Murante and Jerry Johnson were the two legislators who originally voted for the ban but later opted against voting to override Governor Ricketts’ veto.
“Today we are doing something that transcends me, that transcends this Legislature, that transcends this state. We are talking about human dignity,” said death penalty ban sponsor Senator Ernie Chambers.
“My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families. While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue,” read a statement by Governor Ricketts, criticizing the Nebraska Legislature’s veto override.
According to WOWT-TV, Nebraska Department of Corrections officials are not yet sure what will happen with the ten men currently on death row in the state, as the legislation does not overturn their sentences but does prevent the state from carrying out their executions. It has been suggested that their sentences might be converted to life in prison without parole, the harshest sentence allowed now under current Nebraska law.
Senator Ernie Chambers said, “I wish that I could say that it was my brilliance that brought us to this point, but this would not be true, and we all know it. Had not the conservative faction decided it was time for a change, there’s no way that what is happening today would be happening today.” Nebraska’s death penalty ban was supported by a faction of 14 conservatives who rebelled against Governor Ricketts, citing religious and fiscal reasons for opposing capital punishment.
The Christian Science Monitor pointed out the fact that Senator Beau McCoy has launched the group Nebraskans for Justice in response to the veto override in an attempt to push for a ballot initiative to reinstate the death penalty in Nebraska.
KETV-7 notes that Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty executive director Stacy Anderson said, “The active leadership of conservative republican legislators in supporting death penalty repeal here in Nebraska reflects a similar sea change I’ve noticed across the country. Conservatives like me want to see policies that are fiscally responsible, limit the size and scope of government, and value life. The death penalty fails on all counts. “