May 28, 2015

Lawmakers override veto, give DREAMers right to drive (AUDIO)

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist appeared with DACA youth at a news conference earlier  in the session

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist appeared with DACA youth at a news conference earlier in the session

State legislators override Governor Pete Ricketts, and pave the way for youth brought into the country illegally to apply for Nebraska driver’s licenses.

Nebraska ends its status as the last state to withhold driving privileges from youth given legal status by the federal government.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha sponsors Legislative Bill 623.

“The positive impacts of this bill have been discussed multiple times for multiple hours on General File and Select File,” Nordquist tells colleagues as he moves to override the veto. “Obviously, we know there are thousands of bright, young, educated immigrant youth in our state who are in need of a legal right to drive and that’s what this bill is intended to do.”

The Unicameral voted 34-10 with five senators abstaining to override the governor’s veto, easily meeting the 30-vote threshold for an override.

LB 623 passed on final reading 34-9-6.

The bill will allow youth under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to apply for Nebraska driver’s license. Nebraska was the last state to withhold such privileges to youth often called DREAMers in reference to the DREAM Act which has failed to clear Congress.

It is estimated there are approximately 2,700 DACA youth in Nebraska.

Gov. Ricketts, in his veto message, stated the language of LB 623 was too broad and would apply to illegal immigrants other than DACA youth, a contention Nordquist denied.

But, Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte agreed that the bill was too broad and not well written.

“The governor is right to veto this,” Groene said during legislative debate on the override motion. “He probably would have not vetoed it if we had clear language; clear and honest language to this bill.”

Many of the youth who would qualify under DACA were brought into this country illegally at a very young age, have attended schools in Nebraska, some even moving on to college.

Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings spoke of a DACA youth who testified during a legislative hearing who was a medical student, soon to become a doctor in Nebraska.

“You mean to tell me we will authorize and license a person to practice medicine in the state of Nebraska, but they can’t drive the car? Are you kidding me? What kind of mentality is that?” Seiler asked.

AUDIO: Legislative debate on override motion on LB 623. [45 min.]


Nebraska legislators defy the governor, repeal the death penalty (AUDIO)

Sen. Ernie Chambers (right) speaks with Sen. Rick Kolowski and Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks after the successful override of Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto

Sen. Ernie Chambers (right) speaks with Sen. Rick Kolowski and Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks after the successful override of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto

Nebraska lawmakers voted once to repeal the death penalty.

On Wednesday, they stuck with that vote one last time.

For the most part.

Legislators earlier voted 32-to-15 for Legislative Bill 268, a repeal of the death penalty in Nebraska. Two senators abstained.

On Wednesday, legislators voted 30-19 to override the veto of Gov. Peter Ricketts, just enough votes for an override. With the vote, Nebraska becomes the first so-called conservative state to repeal capital punishment.

Ricketts needed to flip three senators to sustain his veto. He came close. Two senators, Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo and Sen. John Murante of Gretna, told colleagues they had heard from their constituents and decided to change their votes and sustain the governor’s veto.

Two senators who had abstained earlier voted to sustain the veto: Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill and Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala.

The vote was a triumph for Sen. Ernie Chambers, who first attempted to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska more than 40 years ago. The Unicameral actually approved a repeal bill 36 years ago, but Chambers couldn’t muster the votes needed to override the veto of then-Gov. Charles Thone.

“We’re going through this final step and for me it’s the final step, perhaps, on a long journey,” Chambers told fellow senators as he opened on his motion to override the governor’s veto.

What followed was three-and-a-half hours of intense, solemn, at times emotional debate by state senators who used logic, Bible verses, and pragmatic arguments both for and against capital punishment. Stories were told, both of atrocious murders and outrageous mistakes.

Even opponents of LB 268, such as Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, acknowledged the magnitude of the vote.

“This is rather a solemn day here in this chamber and it should be,” Kintner stated.

Even with a legislative chamber packed with news media, onlookers, and visitors debate took on a quiet, dignified air.

Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins warned lawmakers they were making a mistake.

“Colleagues, search your souls, search your hearts; be aware of what you’re removing,” Bloomfield implored during legislative floor debate.

Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln led a coalition of conservative senators in opposing the death penalty even in the face of criticism from fellow conservatives and the governor. Coash told lawmakers judgment cannot be substituted for political parties or labels.

“I’ve heard all the labels I care to hear this session: liberals, Democrats, Republicans, wimps,” Coash stated. “We are senators.”

LB 268 received 30 votes during both the first and second rounds of debate. The bill survived a filibuster on the second round. It gained support on final reading, clearing the legislature on a 32-15 vote, making Ricketts’ task to sustain a veto more daunting.

After the vote Wednesday afternoon, cheers broke out in the upper gallery by opponents of the death penalty, prompting a gavel and warning from Speaker Galen Hadley of Kearney.

The practical effect of the action is negligible. Nebraska last executed a death-row inmate in 1997, an argument used by supporters of LB 268 to claim capital punishment is broken in Nebraska. There are 10 inmates currently on death row at the Tecumseh state prison.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min.]

Unicameral overrides governor, repeals death penalty in Nebraska (AUDIO)

State legislators overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of LB 268, repealing the death penalty in Nebraska.

The Unicameral voted 30-19 on Sen. Ernie Chambers’ motion to override the veto. Chambers sponsors the measure, the latest in his 40-year fight to end capital punishment in Nebraska.

The vote came after nearly three-and-a-half hours of debate in a solemn, quiet legislative chamber at the Capitol.

Earlier, the Unicameral voted 32-15 to pass LB 268, with two senators abstaining. Gov. Ricketts followed through with his promise to veto the measure.

Two senators who previously voted to repeal the death penalty, voted to sustain the governor’s veto. Two senators who had not voted earlier, voted to sustain the veto.

AUDIO:  Sen. Ernie Chambers opens on his motion to override the veto of LB 268



It’s official, Gov. Ricketts vetoes death penalty repeal bill (AUDIO)

Gov. Pete Ricketts holds news conference in which he vetoed LB 268

Gov. Pete Ricketts holds news conference in which he vetoed the bill repealing the death penalty

Gov. Pete Ricketts has made it official, vetoing the bill that repeals the death penalty.

Ricketts vetoed Legislative Bill 268 during a news conference held in his Capitol office hearing room Tuesday afternoon in which the governor was accompanied by the Attorney General, state senators, and family members of a murder victim.

Ricketts renewed his call on the public to pressure the legislature to sustain his veto.

“A vote with Sen. (Ernie) Chambers to repeal the death penalty sends the wrong message to Nebraskans, who I mentioned, overwhelmingly support the death penalty. Nebraskans expect their public officials to strengthen public safety, not weaken it,” Ricketts stated. “And it sends the message to criminals that Nebraska will be soft on crime.”

It will take work on Ricketts’ part to sustain the veto. Lawmakers passed LB 268, sponsored by Sen. Chambers, on a 32-15 vote. Supporters need 30 votes to override the veto. The governor must flip three votes to succeed.

Attorney General Doug Peterson says the brutal murder that landed cult leader Michael Ryan on death row illustrates the need to keep capital punishment on the books.

“We saw the type of choices he made, his total disregard for the sanctity of human life,” Peterson said. “Law enforcement and prosecutors need to have, as a tool, the ability to utilize the death penalty, because when those people choose to act in such a reprehensible way towards human life they, in effect, surrender their right to enjoy life.”

Ryan died on death row at the Tecumseh prison Sunday evening, according to officials with the Department of Correctional Services. Ryan led a cult encamped on a farm in southeastern Nebraska which preached about the end of the world. Ryan tortured and killed 26-year-old James Thimm and 5-year-old Luke Stice in 1985 near Rulo.

The Ryan case is one of two brought up often by supporters of capital punishment in Nebraska. That other case is the Norfolk bank robbery in which five people were killed on September 26th, 2002.

Vivian Tuttle says she will never forget that day when her daughter, Evonne, was shot to death.

“There was a camera inside of that bank and I watched my daughter get down on her knees, bow her head, and get shot,” Tuttle said during the governor’s news conference. “I want justice for my grandchildren. I want justice for all the other families. They need to have that. So, we need to keep the death penalty.”

AUDIO:  Gov. Pete Ricketts holds news conference in which he vetoed LB 268. [12 min.]

Gov. Ricketts working to sustain coming veto of death penalty repeal (AUDIO)

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts vows to work hard to sustain his coming veto of the bill to repeal the death penalty.

Ricketts has confirmed he will veto Legislative Bill 268 to repeal the death penalty.

“I traveled the state for the last year-and-a-half. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s traveled the state more than I have in the last year-and-a-half and the people I talk to overwhelmingly support the death penalty,” according to Ricketts.

Ricketts, in his first year as governor, has much work to do if he is to be successful in sustaining his veto.

LB 268 passed on a 32-to-15 vote with two senators not voting. Supporters need 30 votes to override the veto.

Ricketts understands he must turn three senators to be successful.

“Well, we’re going to work very hard over the course of the next few days to talk with the senators and, again, this is where I think the second house needs to weigh in as well,” Ricketts says. “But, we’re going to continue to work the process.”

Ricketts has urged Nebraskans to contact their senators and let their opinions on the matter be known. Ricketts theorizes that legislators have grown out of touch with their constituents, leading to their vote to end capital punishment in Nebraska.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]