"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Opposing sides in Nebraska's death penalty debate are expected to square off in repeal drives

Petition circulators will hit the sidewalks Saturday to begin gathering signatures to stop a repeal of the death penalty
Petition circulators hit the sidewalks Saturday to begin gathering signatures
to stop a repeal of the death penalty in Nebraska. (Ph: Lincoln Journal Star)
LINCOLN — Get ready to be approached soon on street corners across the state by dueling parties seeking to retain or repeal Nebraska’s death penalty.

Petition circulators will be out seeking signatures for a voter referendum to revive capital punishment. And there’s a good chance an anti-death penalty “educator” will be standing nearby, as well, armed with leaflets and information supporting the repeal.

Representatives of the ACLU of Nebraska and Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty acknowledged last week that discussions have begun on how to respond to the referendum effort being mounted by the recently formed Nebraskans for the Death Penalty.

While no specific tactics have been decided, groups opposing petition drives in the past have used various strategies to thwart efforts to place issues on the ballot, from legally challenging petition language to posting “educators” or “blockers” next to petition circulators to dissuade people from signing.

Danielle Conrad, a former state senator who now heads the ACLU of Nebraska, said opponents to the referendum do not intend to be disruptive or disrespectful. But, she said, they are considering the use of what she called “citizen educators” to provide the other point of view and to monitor for fraud.

“It’s always appropriate to share your views,” Conrad said. “It’s important that we continue to share our message — why the death penalty is broken and why smart alternatives like life in prison put public safety first and allow Nebraska to focus on other priorities.”

The public campaign over the future of the death penalty in Nebraska is beginning this weekend, as Nebraskans for the Death Penalty begins gathering signatures to place the issue on the ballot and possibly put the repeal on hold.

The referendum effort was launched last week in the wake of the Legislature’s 30-19 override of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of the death penalty repeal law.

While Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has hired a consultant to manage the petition drive and assembled an all-star cast of Republican officials to coordinate the campaign, death penalty opponents have been quietly meeting to decide strategy and enlist backers.

Stacy Anderson, the executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said she has been deluged with calls from volunteers seeking to help.

“Our supporters are more energized than ever,” Anderson said. “They are excited about getting (the repeal) through the Legislature. They’re ready to do whatever they can to keep this historic victory.”

There’s also an expectation that money from national groups might be spent to support or defeat the referendum effort.

“There’s no doubt the world is watching, and watching very carefully, what might happen here,” Conrad said.

To be sure, there are several ways to defeat an initiative or a proposed constitutional amendment, and many ways to mount legal challenges.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty must collect about 115,000 signatures by Aug. 27 to put the repeal law on hold and allow voters to decide whether to keep or repeal capital punishment during the general election in 2016.

Officials with that group said they’re optimistic they can gather that many signatures — about 1,400 a day — even though a similar referendum to restore the death penalty failed in Maryland in 2013.

Peterson pointed out that last year, an initiative to increase the state’s minimum wage gathered about 135,000 signatures in about 60 days, so he said the pro-death penalty group should be able to gather 115,000-plus within 80-some days.

If the group fails to meet that threshold, it could still put the death penalty referendum on the ballot with about 57,500 signatures, though the repeal would go into effect in the meantime.

Source: Omaha.com, Paul Hammel / World-Herald bureau, June 8, 2015

Nebraskans For the Death Penalty opens Omaha and Lincoln offices; more planned

LINCOLN — Offices were opened Monday in Omaha and Lincoln by a group seeking to hold a public referendum on the death penalty in Nebraska.

Nebraskans For the Death Penalty plans to open more offices across the state later, according to spokesman Chris Peterson.

Peterson said the group deployed paid circulators Saturday and Sunday in Omaha and Lincoln as it started a drive to gather between 57,000 and 115,000 signatures to qualify the issue for the 2016 ballot.

The drive to keep capital punishment was launched after the Nebraska Legislature two weeks ago overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of the death penalty repeal law.

Peterson said that between 50 and 60 volunteer circulators underwent training on Saturday in Lincoln in conjunction with a state central committee meeting of the Nebraska Republican Party.

Source: Omaha.com, Paul Hammel, June 9, 2015

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