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Nebraska Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto And Ends Death Penalty In The State

Nebraska Senator and Death Penalty Opponent Ernie Chambers.

Nebraska’s legislature voted to repeal the death penalty on a 30-19 vote Wednesday. Republican Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed the death penalty repeal bill, but the legislature overrode his veto with no extra votes to spare. 30 votes are needed to override a Governor’s veto in Nebraska. While the initial measure had reached the Governor’s desk with a veto-proof 32 votes, two lawmakers defected to the Governor’s side, making the final vote perilously close.

Nebraska joins 18 other U.S. states and the District of Columbia in banning the death penalty. However, it becomes the first Republican state to do so since North Dakota abolished its death penalty in 1973. A handful of blue states– Maryland, Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey — have also abolished the death penalty in the last eight years.

Governor Ricketts expressed outrage at the veto override. He angrily tweeted:

My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families.

For death penalty opponent Senator Ernie Chambers, however, the Wednesday victory was a crowning achievement, after over three decades of working to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska. Chambers had tasted victory once before in 1979 when he also helped pass a repeal measure, but then the Nebraska legislature upheld Republican Governor Charles Thone’s veto. This time Chambers was able to prevail, with just enough votes from the legislature to overturn Governor Ricketts’ veto.

Defeating the death penalty in Nebraska required the cooperation of liberal, moderate and conservative lawmakers. While the lawmakers may have had very different reasons for wanting to abolish the state’s death penalty, they were able to work together to forge a coalition that not only passed the bill, but also had sufficient votes to override Governor Ricketts’ veto. In the process, Nebraska’s legislature demonstrated how lawmakers from different ideological camps can come together to form alliances capable of passing meaningful reform.

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