Nebraskans will decide whether to bring back the death penalty today.
St. Sen. Colby Coash (R-Lincoln) says the legislature abolished the death penalty because it is too costly and a flawed system.
“We haven’t been able to get the drugs,” Coash tells Nebraska Radio Network. “There’s a big financial risk of wrongful conviction, and there’s certainly a big moral risk of erroneously executing someone who is innocent.”
Bob Evnen with Nebraskans for the Death Penalty says it is a just sentence for rare cases.
“We don’t impose it very often. We shouldn’t. But we do impose it on the most heinous crimes and the most depraved criminals,” Evnen tells Nebraska Radio Network.
The legislature voted to abolish the death penalty in 2015. Instead, a bipartisan group of lawmakers decided life in prison without parole would be the maximum penalty for first degree murder in the state.
Evnen says a life sentence can be changed by the Board of Pardons.
“They can commute sentences, including sentences of people who have been sentenced to life for first degree murder, and they have done so and they are continuing to do so,” he says.
Coash says the Board of Pardons can also reduce a death sentence now, and always has had that power.
“There’s nothing about what we did in the legislature that changes that process,” he says. “The opposition is making it sound like this is something new that the legislature did. This is nothing new.”
A coalition of different religions have spoken out against the death penalty.
Evnen says law enforcement overwhelming supports it.
“We expect law enforcement to put their lives at risk to protect us every day and their opinion on this carries a lot of weight,” he says. “We have to protect those who protect us.”
Coash disagrees that the death penalty is the answer to protecting law enforcement.
“The things that they need to be safe and to do their jobs – I can tell you that the death penalty never comes up on that list,” he says. “What comes up on that list is more resources, more pay.”
A vote to “retain” will keep life in prison without parole as the maximum penalty for first degree murder.
A vote to “repeal” will overturn the law that abolished the death penalty and bring it back on the books.