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Nebraska Lawmakers Override Governor's Veto Of Death Penalty Repeal

Updated at 5:52 p.m. ET

Lawmakers in Nebraska overrode Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of their vote to repeal the death penalty, making it the first Republican-controlled state in the U.S. to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973. The vote was 30-19.

As we reported Tuesday, Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed the legislation flanked by law enforcement personnel, murder victims' family members and state lawmakers who support capital punishment. Opposition to the death penalty in the conservative state came from Republicans who were against it for religious or fiscal reasons, as well as from Democrats and independents.

"The efforts and arguments of Nebraska conservatives are part of an emerging trend in the Republican Party, evidenced by the involvement of conservative Republicans in legislative efforts to repeal the death penalty in other states, such as Kansas, Kentucky, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming," Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said in a statement.

Those who opposed capital punishment in Nebraska point out that the state hasn't executed a prisoner since 1997.

But writing today in the Omaha World-Herald, Ricketts said:

"Even without executions in recent years, the death penalty in Nebraska has continued to play an important role in prosecuting criminals, protecting our families and ensuring that criminals remain locked behind bars. The death penalty allows prosecutors to get stronger sentences which keep dangerous criminals off our streets.

"In Nebraska, there are only 10 inmates on death row. Unlike California or Texas, which have hundreds on death row, we use the death penalty judiciously and prudently.

"Retaining the death penalty is not only important to the integrity of criminal prosecutions but also vitally important to good prison management and protecting our prison officers."

Lawmakers in Nebraska's unicameral Legislature needed 30 votes to override Ricketts' veto. Under state law, all bills go through three votes. The vote last week was 32-15. In the previous rounds, it was 30-16 and 30-13.

After the vote today, Ricketts tweeted:

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

The death penalty is legal in 32 states; the other 18 states that have banned recently it include Maryland (2013), Connecticut (2012), Illinois (2011) and New Mexico (2009).

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

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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.
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