With Nebraska on the brink of outlawing the death penalty, opponents of capital punishment hope this week's veto-override vote in the Legislature will build momentum for their cause in other Republican states.
Whether that will happen isn't clear, but Nebraska isn't the 1st right-leaning state to consider banning capital punishment this year.
A bill to abolish the death penalty in Montana came within one vote of passing in February in the Republican-led state House. In Kansas, a GOP state representative took the lead in introducing a repeal bill this year, and the state's Republican Liberty Caucus formally came out in opposition to capital punishment in 2014.
"This could start a domino effect, for sure," said Stacy Anderson, executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "Many states are already looking at this. I joke with people who do the same kind of work in other states that we're in a race to see who can repeal it 1st."
Nebraska lawmakers voted 32-15 last week to abolish the death penalty, despite promises that Gov. Pete Ricketts will veto the bill. Death penalty opponents need at least 30 votes for a veto override, but Ricketts is appealing to the public and talking privately with lawmakers in an effort to flip 3 or more votes.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said his repeal bill wouldn't have passed this year without conservative support. Nebraska's longest-serving lawmaker has fought for decades to end the death penalty; the bill that advanced last week was his 38th try, according to the Legislature's Research Office.
"Nebraska doing it may provide cover to other legislatures to say, 'If Nebraska can do this, we can also,'" Chambers said.
National groups are watching Nebraska closely and expect a "ripple effect" if the state votes to abolish, said Shari Silberstein, executive director of the group Equal Justice USA. Law-and-order conservatives have traditionally stood among the strongest supporters of the ultimate punishment.
"A lot of states have stopped making this a partisan issue, and started to make it a conscience issue," she said. "The party's not going to tell you how to vote."
Repealing the death penalty may be easier in Nebraska than states where capital punishment is more ingrained in the culture, said Eric Berger, a University of Nebraska associate law professor and death penalty expert.
Nebraska hasn't executed an inmate since 1997, when the electric chair was used, and the state has never imposed the punishment with the current required lethal injection protocol. 11 men are now on death row, including 1 who has been there for 35 years.
"I don't see a state like Texas repealing capital punishment anytime soon, but there certainly is a movement that's gaining momentum," Berger said. "The anti-death penalty arguments are beginning to resonate with small-government conservatives. It doesn't guarantee there will be continued momentum, but I do think it's symptomatic of some changed thinking on the right."
Nebraska senators base their death penalty opposition on different factors, including religious beliefs, an argument that it wastes taxpayer money and the idea that the government wasn't competent enough to manage it. The repeal effort has won support from prominent religious groups, including the Nebraska Catholic Conference.
Ricketts argued Friday that lawmakers are out of touch with their constituents, the majority of whom he argues continue to support capital punishment. In a state with a 1-house Legislature, he said, the public should serve its role as the "2nd house" by contacting their senator.
"The people I talk to overwhelmingly support the death penalty," Ricketts said.
Source: Associated Press, May 24, 2015
YOU can help abolish the death penalty in Nebraska!
Right now, it is vital that Nebraskans weigh in with their Senators, telling them to hold firm and override the Governor's veto of death penalty repeal. Senators are getting the hardest pressure from the other side than they have gotten thus far. The veto override could happen as soon as Tuesday and will be the hardest vote for us to win.
Sample Tweets (please keep posting these until the override happens)
- Tell your friends in Nebraska - Contact Senators & ask them to see #deathpenalty repeal through to the end: http://ejusa.org/act/nadp #NERepeal
- Have friends from #Nebraska? Ask them to go here and thank Senators for passing #deathpenalty repeal: http://ejusa.org/act/NADP #NERepeal
- Please pass this on to EVERYONE in Nebraska: http://ejusa.org/act/NADP End the #deathpenalty in NE & the here in [YOUR-STATE] #NERepeal
Sample Facebook post:
Know anyone in Nebraska? Share this link with them so they can tell lawmakers to see repeal through to the end. Make Nebraska the 19th state to end the death penalty!
Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
941 'O' Street, Suite 725 | Lincoln, NE 68508
Office: 402.477.7787 | Cell: 402.525.4679
Email:firstname.lastname@example.org | Website: www.nadp.net
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