A compromise has stuck and a bill to change how juveniles convicted of murder in Nebraska are sentenced has advanced.
State lawmakers have agreed to a range of sentences from 40 years to Life in prison and have advanced LB 44 on a 30-to-2 vote with 11 senators not voting.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha had threatened to launch a filibuster of the bill, but has relented.
“I’m going to support this bill, because it’s the only thing on the table,” Chambers tells colleagues during floor debate. “I do not like the 40 year minimum sentence.”
Chambers favors the Judiciary Committee agreement that would set a minimum of 30 years in prison with a maximum up to life in prison.
The minimum sentence is important. Under Nebraska law, a juvenile inmate would qualify for parole after serving half of the sentence. So, someone serving a 30-year prison sentence could be released for good behavior after serving 15 years. The 40-year sentence would allow release after 20 years.
Lawmakers earlier rejected a minimum sentence of 60 years.
The Unicameral is attempting to conform state law in line with a United States Supreme Court ruling. The Supreme Court has ruled that states must give judges a range of sentences to impose against juveniles convicted of murder, not mandate only a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Chambers still opposes the bill, but says he will not work to block its passage, because of the compromise struck.
“But when people who are serious and sincere about an issue such as this can reach a consensus on something that may not be what I want, but it’s better than what could be done, I’m not going to stand in the way of it,” Chambers says.
Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, tells colleagues he understands what is at stake.
“These are difficult debates. These are very difficult debates. And I can tell you as we worked through the matter in the Judiciary Committee, it was just as difficult, just as challenging,” Ashford says.