Nebraska Governor’s Veto Of Death Penalty Repeal Sets Up Override Vote

May 27, 2015

Updated at 3:54 p.m. ET

Lawmakers in Nebraska will try today to override Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of their vote to repeal the death penalty in the state.

As we reported Tuesday, Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed the legislation flanked by law enforcement personnel, murder victims’ family members and state lawmakers who support capital punishment. Opposition to the death penalty in the conservative state comes from Republicans who are against it for religious or fiscal reasons, as well as from Democrats and independents. Those who oppose capital punishment in Nebraska point out that the state hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1997.

But writing today in the Omaha World-Herald, Ricketts said:

“Even without executions in recent years, the death penalty in Nebraska has continued to play an important role in prosecuting criminals, protecting our families and ensuring that criminals remain locked behind bars. The death penalty allows prosecutors to get stronger sentences which keep dangerous criminals off our streets.

“In Nebraska, there are only 10 inmates on death row. Unlike California or Texas, which have hundreds on death row, we use the death penalty judiciously and prudently.

“Retaining the death penalty is not only important to the integrity of criminal prosecutions but also vitally important to good prison management and protecting our prison officers.”

Lawmakers in Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature need 30 votes to override Ricketts’ veto. Under state law, all bills go through three votes. The vote last week was 32-15. In the previous rounds, it was 30-16 and 30-13.

But as Fred Knapp of member station NET reports, at least one senator says he will now vote with the governor. He cited Ricketts’ announcement earlier this month that new lethal injections had been bought to resume capital punishment. The vote is expected to be close.

Knapp is tweeting the debate in the Legislature.

If lawmakers succeed in overriding the veto, Nebraska will become the first Republican-controlled state in the U.S. to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973. The previous attempt in 1979 to repeal capital punishment failed when the measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Charles Thone.

The death penalty is legal in 32 states; the 18 states that have banned recently it include Maryland (2013), Connecticut (2012), Illinois (2011) and New Mexico (2009).

We will update this post after lawmakers vote.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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