Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nebraska: Bill to end death penalty advances

LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers will once again debate the death penalty after a proposal to repeal capital punishment advanced Tuesday to the floor of the Legislature.

Although Legislative Bill 543 was expected to obtain the minimum five votes to get out of the Judiciary Committee, none of the eight members voted against it. Only Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial abstained.

The bill is the priority of Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who wants to outlaw state executions and replace them with terms of life without parole. Chambers has fought to end execution throughout his long legislative career.

Nebraska law currently allows the use of lethal injection for condemned killers, although that method has not yet been used in the state. It was adopted in 2009 after the Nebraska Supreme Court deemed the electric chair cruel and unusual punishment.

None of the current 11 death row inmates are scheduled for execution because of a pending legal challenge involving one of the state's three lethal injection drugs. Nebraska last executed an inmate in 1997.

After Tuesday's committee meeting, Christensen said he chose not to vote because he wants to hear a floor debate on the issue. Although he still believes death is a just punishment in certain cases, his position has evolved over the years, in part because the death penalty is so expensive to carry out.

A repeal bill was debated last year, but the sponsor pulled it when it lacked the votes to advance to the second round. Ten new senators have since joined the Legislature, along with Chambers, who held his seat for 38 years before sitting out four years due to term limits.

Lawmakers in Maryland voted last week to abolish the death penalty, making it the sixth state in six years to repeal executions. A total of 18 states don't allow capital punishment.

Source: Omaha.com, March 20, 2013