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Nebraska Legislature Repeals Death Penalty With Enough Votes To Override Expected Veto

Nebraska Senator and Death Penalty Opponent Ernie Chambers

Nebraska’s unicameral legislature voted 32-15 to abolish the death penalty in the state on Wednesday. Stunningly, the bill not only passed, but it cleared the 30 vote threshold needed to override an anticipated veto from Republican Governor Pete Ricketts. Death penalty supporters attempted to filibuster the legislation, but the filibuster was ended by a decisive 34-14 vote cutting off debate. The legislature then passed the measure ending the death penalty, and replacing it with a maximum sentence of life in prison, on a 32-15 vote.


The vote in Nebraska’s nominally non-partisan legislature, brought pro-life conservatives and reform-oriented liberals together, in a united effort to end the death penalty in one of the nation’s most politically conservative states. Senator Tammy Garrett (Bellevue) argued:

I’m pro-life from conception until when God calls somebody home. I’m not going to quibble over innocent life versus those who are guilty for what they have done. This is a matter of conscience.

Senator Ernie Chambers (Omaha), an African-American lawmaker who was first elected to the Nebraska legislature in 1970, and who has fought tirelessly to end the death penalty for decades, said:

We got the state out of the killing business today.

Chambers also expressed confidence that lawmakers would stick to their positions and override the inevitable upcoming veto from Governor Ricketts.

The Nebraska legislature also voted to abolish the state’s death penalty in 1979, but then Governor Charles Thone (R) vetoed the bill, and Chambers was unable to round up the 30 votes needed to override the veto. It appears that this time, he has the votes to override a veto.


Given that the measure passed with just 32 votes, death penalty proponents can still cling to slim hopes that a handful of lawmakers will shift their votes and allow Governor Ricketts’ forthcoming veto to stand. Pro-death penalty lawmakers did not express optimism, however.  A disappointed Senator Jim Scheer (Norfolk) lamented:

I really think that people voted their conscience today. People’s consciences don’t change.

Nebraska, however, is changing. The deep red state made history on Wednesday. Senator Chambers remarked during the debate:

The record should be crystal clear on what it is we are doing, it is historic. We have the opportunity to take one small step for the legislature, a giant leap for civilization.

Provided the legislature holds firm and overrides the governor’s veto, it will actually be a giant leap for the state’s conservative legislature and one small step for civilization, towards abolishing the death penalty everywhere. Regardless of whether other states followed suit, what the Nebraska legislature did on Wednesday was indeed historic.



Image via Bold Nebraska


View Comments

  • Color me surprised that a red state broke out of the GOP/TP "mold" and took a leap forward today by outlawing the death penalty. I think that since the legislature has shown where it stands, Gov. Ricketss should not veto the bill. I'm thinking that if/when he does, he'll do so with an eye toward running for a national office. It's a shame that he can't just sign the bill into law and put politics and his goal for a national political office aside. Thanks for the info, Keith, because I was wondering how the legislature voted on this bill!

    • A disappointed Senator Jim Scheer (Norfolk) lamented:

      "I really think that people voted their conscience today. People’s consciences don’t change."

      So sad. People voted their consciences and he's disappointed. I'll bet he's a "Christian", too.

  • Long overdue. I've always hated every bit of it. Massively overused and abused. Even where there's absolutely no way to be sure of what happened or who did it, so many times its no deterrent to dropping the death penalty on someone.

    • And don;t forget...we are also the country with the most children killed by guns, bar none. We are so 'exceptional' it makes me sick. I am in Michigan, and just waiting for the ALEC law reinstating our death penalty. You can bet the Koch's MI legislature and bought and paid for Governor Snyder "Right to Work is not on my agenda" will pass it in the dead of night, like they did the voted down emergency managers a couple years ago.

  • Wow Nebraska! Keeping it consistent......I could never understand the hypocritical point of view that some Rethugs have. They are against a woman's right to chose and abort a fertilized egg ie fetus. But they are for killing human beings based on police investigations. Hmm....I don't know, but it sounds like control the women and kill the POC.

  • Go Ernie Chambers! I have roots in Omaha and Lincoln, and he's long been someone I admire even though I don't live there. That he and conservative white GOP members saw the light is spectacular!

    I'm so glad this man - who refused his entire career to wear a suit and tie - finally accomplished this amazing feat. He earned every accolade for bringing this home.

    This puts NE ahead of CA in case anyone is watching. Just saying...

  • This Handsome Nebraska Senator and other Leaders of color should be addressing our Youth...

    We create the future...
    Pitch-in and be a part it!

    (I'd love to see this Bumper Sticker):

    "We Cannot Predict the Future...
    But We Can Invent It!"

  • Wow! What really surprised me was that a "Pro Lifer" actually was pro life after birth. They're usually just pro fetus. After the child is born they seem to want nothing to do with helping the child when it comes to food and shelter.

  • All fine and dandy. That's a lot of talking. Now comes the hard part: doing it.

    Since 'life in prison' is so much better- will this Red State bankroll the necessities of keeping in prison for life?
    Or will they turn the usual blind eye and cut costs until the lifers are in conditions that will get Amnesty International's attention?
    Like so many other states are doing?

  • GOOD JOB NEBRASKA!! Finally a bunch of "Pro Life" screaming Repubs. Showed that they TRUELY are Pro Life. I have ALWAYS felt that if it is WRONG to kill another human being then WHERE THE HELL DOES THE GOVT. GET OFF THINKING IT IS OKAY FOR THEM TO KILL??!! Now lets get this done on a NATIONAL LEVEL!!! Once again, Thank You "Huskers".

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