State lawmakers have voted to repeal the death penalty.
The Unicameral voted 32-15 to pass LB 268, which would repeal the death penalty in favor of life in prison. Two senators did not vote.
Prior to the final vote, legislators voted 34-14 to end a filibuster against the measure led by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, a rarity on final reading. Normally, senators do not debate bills on final reading.
McCoy told colleagues he took the unusual step to mount a filibuster on final reading, because of the gravity of the vote. McCoy argued that recent events disclose the need for capital punishment, arguing among other things that the death penalty is the state’s only recourse to punish inmates who kill their fellow inmates as recently happened in the Tecumseh prison riot.
“To me, that’s compelling enough reason to stand before you this morning and to fight this to the absolute finish,” McCoy stated.
But, McCoy and fellow opponents were fighting an uphill battle seemingly decided in earlier rounds of voting which advanced the bill sponsored by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.
In fact, the bill received two more votes on final reading than it did earlier.
Chambers, the long-time veteran of the Unicameral who return to the legislature after sitting out a term due to term limits, told colleagues sentiment has turned against the death penalty.
“I’ve been dealing with this issue for over four decades and never has there been the kind of support among the legislators themselves as has occurred in this instance,” Chambers said.
Many legislators spoke of their faith during debate, on both sides.
Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln said her faith plays a role in her approach to the issue.
“I am a person of faith and I don’t speak of that on this floor very often, but as a representative of the people and of someone who campaigned as a person of faith, I do feel compelled to say that I feel as though I am representing the people of Nebraska when I represent compassion and when I represent the idea of redemption,” Bolz told fellow legislators.
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte though disagreed with Bolz’s assessment of public opinion on the issue, asserting public opinion polls disclose Nebraskans favor the death penalty.
“There’s evil in the world and civilized societies have always handled it,” according to Groene. “The death penalty is a moral right of a civil society.”
Groene urged colleagues to vote against repeal, saying that juries should be allowed to decide the issue on the individual cases before them.
“They know it when they see it,” Groene said. “They know it when they see evil and I trust them to do the right thing.”
But, Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln said it’s not up to the state to take the life of an individual, no matter what crime he commits.
“I believe that Nebraskans believe that all life is given to them by their Creator that we have limited time on this earth to do our best and that He will call us home and we will be judged by Him,” Coash stated during legislative floor debate.
Sen. David Schnoor of Scribner argued against repeal, asking colleagues to consider their vote carefully.
“What motivates you to make your decision?” Schnoor asked. “From my point of view, what motivates you to take this tool out of the hands of our judicial system?”
Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings doesn’t see it as an effective tool. Seiler said his motivation comes from Nebraska’s experience with capital punishment, including the fact that no one has been executed in the state since 1997.
“It isn’t a deterrent,” Seiler stated. “It hasn’t been used and it’s worthless.”
AUDIO: Full legislative debate on LB 268, final reading. [2 hours]