- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Gov. Pete Ricketts’ administration is still pursuing lethal injection drugs for executions, the Republican said Tuesday, but it will not decide how to proceed until state officials verify voter signatures on a petition pushing to keep capital punishment legal.

“I think it’s important to take this one step at a time,” Ricketts said during a news conference on an unrelated subject. “There’s a process to follow here with regard to the verification of the signatures, and when we have that verified, then we can talk about what happens afterward.”

Nebraska lawmakers voted in May to abolish the death penalty, overriding the governor’s veto. The group Nebraskans for the Death Penalty responded with the petition drive, heavily financed by Ricketts, which sought to halt the repeal before it went into effect on Aug. 30 and place the issue before voters.

The group announced last week that it had collected nearly 167,000 signatures from all 93 of Nebraska’s counties. At least 56,942 signatures are needed to place the issue on the general election ballot, and 113,883 valid signatures are required to halt the repeal until November 2016 election. Each county will verify the signatures in a process that will take about 40 days.

Death penalty opponents have formed their own group, Nebraskans for Public Safety, to urge voters to reject the ballot measure.

Ricketts said he will continue to advocate for capital punishment, and may contribute more to the Nebraskans for the Death Penalty campaign. As of the last state filing deadline on July 31, Ricketts had given the group $200,000. His father, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, had donated $100,000. The group raised a total of more than $652,000 from 40 individual donors and seven groups classified as businesses, political action committees and other entities.

“I think it’s appropriate that people in Nebraska have a chance to vote on this very important issue,” he said.

Even if the law is suspended, Nebraska currently has no way to execute any of the 10 men on death row because its lacks two of the three required drugs and has struggled to obtain them legally. The state paid $54,400 in May to order the drugs from a broker in India, but federal authorities have said they can’t be legally imported.

Nebraska hasn’t executed an inmate since 1997, and has never done so using the state’s current three-drug lethal injection protocol.

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