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Nebraska Lawmakers Override Veto; Abolish Death Penalty

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The death penalty is dead in the state of Nebraska. It is a reliably conservative state, which is why some are reacting to this with disbelief. Fred Knapp of NET News reports.

FRED KNAPP, BYLINE: Nebraska's executed only three prisoners since the 1950s; the last in 1997. And the state currently lacks two of three drugs required by its lethal injection protocol. During Wednesday's debate on overriding Governor Pete Ricketts's veto of repealing the death penalty, state Senator Colby Coash, a repeal supporter, told colleagues no more executions will be carried out.

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COLBY COASH: You cannot fix this, and it won't go on. Whether this override is successful, no executions are going to happen. You all know that.

KNAPP: Coash was among 16 Republicans who joined all 13 Democrats and one independent as the one house, officially nonpartisan legislature voted 30 to 19 to override the governor's veto. Independent state Senator Ernie Chambers has been campaigning against the death penalty for 40 years.

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ERNIE CHAMBERS: Had not the conservative faction decided that it's time for a change, there's no way that what is happening today would be taking place.

KNAPP: But state Senator Bill Kintner, a Republican death penalty supporter, rejected the idea that conservatives have changed.

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BILL KINTNER: Oh, no, they haven't. Republicans have changed in this chamber, but conservatives across the state have not changed.

KNAPP: And state Senator Dave Bloomfield, a Republican death penalty supporter, predicted the state's populist tradition would produce a backlash.

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DAVE BLOOMFIELD: If you choose to override the governor's veto, I'm virtually certain there will be a bill next year to take it to a vote of the people.

KNAPP: Within hours of the vote, state Senator Beau McCoy, a pro-death penalty Republican, announced an organization aimed at putting the question to voters via the initiative petition process. For NPR News, I'm Fred Knapp in Lincoln, Neb. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.