Nebraska abolishes capital punishment, Oklahoma opponents of penalty cheer

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Nebraska Legislature has abolished capital punishment, overriding a gubernatorial veto to do so.

“Nebraska’s experience abolishing the death penalty this week is a testament to the legislative process — in short, it works,” said Connie Johnson, chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP). 

“A bi-partisan coalition of legislators reasoned together, voted together and stuck together on a veto override to rid their state of economically unfeasible, fraught with error, and ineffective state-sponsored murders,” Johnson continued.

“As a conservative, mid-western state, Nebraska’s experience gives hope to advocates on both coasts and in the middle of the country that their voices matter, and their message is gaining traction. The OK-CADP looks forward to learning from our neighbors to the North as we campaign to defeat a state question next year that would put the death penalty in Oklahoma’s Constitution,” the former Democratic state senator from Oklahoma City said.

“We at the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are overjoyed at Nebraska’s repealing of the Death Penalty,” added Adam Leathers, the OK-CADP spokesperson, in the organization’s press release on the issue.

“We also appreciate that a mostly politically conservative state like Nebraska realizes that the Death Penalty is contrary to their own ethics. The Death Penalty betrays conservative ideals because it is fiscally wasteful, it is born in extreme government over-reach, and it flies in the face of a Christian belief system,” Leathers concluded.

Grappling with many of the same issues that have suspended, at least for now, the death penalty in Oklahoma, the unicameral (one-house) chamber in Nebraska passed a repeal this year. However, Republican Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed the measure.

On Wednesday (May 27), the Legislature voted 30-19 to override the state’s chief executive.
The New York Times reported Gov. Ricketts’ reaction to the override:

“My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families. While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue.”

According to the Times, Sen. Ernie Chambers, an Omaha independent, said, “Today we are doing something that transcends me, that transcends this Legislature, that transcends this state. We are talking about human dignity.”

Some Republicans at the Nebraska capitol in Omaha shifted against the measure due to mounting problems concerns related to obtaining elements of the lethal drug mix used in most states for executions in recent years.

However, some Republicans have said they have shifted away from their support for the ultimate sanction. At least a few members said, in news stories, their support for Gov. Ricketts’ veto will be their last vote to uphold the penalty.

In all, eighteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment in their jurisdictions.