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Nebraska Lawmakers Move Step Closer To Repealing Death Penalty

Lawmakers in Nebraska have given final approval to a measure that would abolish the death penalty with enough votes to override a threatened veto from Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The vote was 32-15. Conservative Nebraska has a unicameral Legislature and all bills go through three votes. In the previous round, the vote was 30-16; in the first, it was 30-13. It would take 30 votes to override a veto from Ricketts, a Republican. If that happens, Nebraska will become the first Republican-controlled state in the U.S. to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973.

Opposition to the death penalty came from Republican lawmakers who are against it for fiscal or religious reasons, as well as Democrats and independents.

Nebraska has not executed a prisoner in nearly 20 years — something Ricketts, a Tea Party Republican who strongly supports capital punishment, wants to change. He said this week that Nebraska had bought new lethal injections to resume the practice. In a column Tuesday on his website, he called Nebraska's failure to execute anyone since 1997 a "management problem."

The previous attempt in 1979 to repeal capital punishment in the state failed when the measure was vetoed by then-Gov. Charles Thone.

The death penalty is legal in 32 states, and the 18 states that have banned it include Maryland (2013), Connecticut (2012), Illinois (2011) and New Mexico (2009). But as The New York Times adds:

"Lawmakers in other conservative states have made their own efforts this year to abolish capital punishment. In Montana, a bill to ban the death penalty passed the Senate but encountered opposition in the House. A vote there ended in a tie, 50 to 50, effectively killing the bill.

"A bill introduced in the Kansas Legislature this year is in committee, and it is unclear whether it will advance to a vote.

"The Midwest has historically been a stronghold of opposition to the death penalty, which has been outlawed in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.