Debate on death has begun at the Capitol.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha has introduced LB 543, a measure that would abolish the death penalty in Nebraska and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“There has been a lot of discussion about the bill. There are speculations galore about what the ultimate outcome of the bill will be,” Chambers stated in his opening, acknowledging that opponents have threatened to mount a filibuster against the bill, keeping it from coming to a vote.
Debate has been somber in a quiet legislative chamber. Supporters have called the death penalty ineffective and unevenly applied.
Supporters have countered that some crimes are so heinous that the death penalty is the only adequate response and that there is no evidence that Nebraska has executed an innocent person.
“I believe that the individuals, 11 of them, that are currently on death row, belong there,” stated Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha.
An amendment to LB 543 has been offered by Sen. Colby Coash and accepted by Sen. Chambers. It streamlines the bill by taking out some intent language.
Coash asked colleagues to ask themselves a question as they consider a change in public policy.
“What good has the death penalty done for our citizens?” Coash asked during the opening of his amendment. “What good has been done because we have a death penalty? Because, without an execution, the death penalty is pretty meaningless.”
Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff, though, insists the death penalty isn’t meaningless to the families of murder victims.
“You know, when I see the parents, I see sadness. I see anger. I see fear for their own children and grandchildren and I believe they deserve to be treated better,” Harms stated.
Debate on the bill is expected to last for hours, perhaps days.
AUDIO: Opening statements for LB 543 and AM 865, measures to abolish the death penalty in Nebraska. [20:45]