A bill that would repeal the death penalty is one step away from passage in the Unicameral.
Supporters of Legislative Bill 268 had to overcome a filibuster to force a vote during the second round of debate. They needed 33 votes for cloture and got 34. After ending the filibuster, legislators voted 30-to-16 with two senators not voting to advance the bill to final round.
If that vote total holds, it would be just enough to override an expected veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha led the unsuccessful filibuster, rejecting one senator’s suggestion that he not describe gruesome murders during legislative floor debate.
“This isn’t the stuff of fiction members and the people of Nebraska. This is the cold, hard reality of what these individuals have done,” McCoy stated. “It might be tough to read it. It might be tough to hear it. How about if you were the victim that had to live through it?”
On the eve of the debate, the office of Gov. Ricketts put out a new release declaring that the state had obtained the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections. According to the governor’s office, the state has potassium chloride on hand. It has ordered sodium thiopental and pancuronium bromide from HarrisPharma.
The sponsor of LB 268, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, cast doubt on the governor’s assurance, claiming Ricketts was trying to mislead legislators in an effort to derail the bill.
“There is nothing I could say to change the mind of anybody who wants to see the state take a life, but I will tell you this, Nebraska has not procured these drugs,” Chambers asserted.
Opponents declined to mount a filibuster during the first round of debate. On second round, they held the floor for four hours before the Unicameral voted to end debate and go to a vote.
Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins told colleagues recent events convinced him the state needs capital punishment, telling colleagues he’s changed his mind since first-round debate.
“At that point, I would have voted to repeal the death penalty,” Bloomfield said. “After the events that have taken place, not only here in Nebraska, but across the country, I have to change that position back to where I have historically, reluctantly been.”
Other opponents of the measure pointed to the two apparent murders in the Tecumseh prison riots, arguing that a sentence of life in prison would mean nothing to the inmates who killed them.
Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha argued in favor of repeal, stating the death penalty is not administered equally.
“We’ve heard people in this body say we have to implement the death penalty for the worst of the worst,” Nordquist told the body. “Well, what do you say to the families (of those) who have been victims of heinous crimes who are not getting the death sentence?”
Nebraska hasn’t executed anyone since 1997.