- Associated Press - Monday, March 9, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A bill to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska has more support this year than many past attempts, a senator supporting it said on Monday after a committee unanimously advanced the proposal. The Judiciary Committee voted 8-0 to advance the bill to the full unicameral.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who has fought for nearly 40 years to end capital punishment, said Monday that his bill has “as good a chance to getting passed as has ever been,” although a leading opponent has already vowed to block it with a filibuster.

Chambers said he can’t remember the measure ever advancing unanimously out of committee and this year some conservative Republican senators have said they will support the bill. For the first time, younger senators “who have never gone on a serious discussion about the death penalty” are approaching him with practical questions about the expense, difficulty and mechanics of a repeal, he said.

Though 11 other senators have signed on as sponsors for the bill, its fate in the Legislature is uncertain. Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, who helped block the repeal last time it advanced in 2013, has already filed four amendments and a motion to indefinitely postpone the bill this year. McCoy said he remains a staunch supporter of the death penalty and lethal injection and said he plans to filibuster.

“I believe a majority of Nebraskans believe in the death penalty against those who commit awful crimes,” he said. “We hear about those crimes every time we talk about this subject, and I intend to talk about them this time.”

The Legislature passed a repeal in 1979, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Charles Thone.

Last week, dozens of opponents rallied at the Capitol for a public hearing on the bill, saying the death penalty extends suffering for victims’ relatives and wastes tax money on appeals, especially since the state can no longer carry out approved executions.

Nebraska’s supply of the required anesthetic, sodium thiopental, expired in December 2013. The drug is no longer produced in the United States, and European Union countries are prohibited from selling the drug for use in capital punishment. The state Department of Correctional Services has not yet obtained a new supply of the drug.

Nebraska has 11 men currently on death row. The state’s last execution was Robert E. Williams, who was electrocuted in 1997. Electrocution was declared “cruel and unusual” by the Nebraska Supreme Court in 2008.

If the measure finds a majority in the Legislature, senators would likely have to override a veto by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who supports the death penalty.

Chambers said he has not spoken with Ricketts about his legislation, but Chambers has designated repealing the death penalty as his priority bill, increasing its chances of early debate.

Thirty-two states and the federal government have the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes executions. The last state to repeal capital punishment was Maryland in 2013.


The bill is LB268

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