The NCSL Blog

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By Amber Widgery

By exactly enough votes to override Governor Pete Ricketts' veto, the Nebraska Legislature has abolished capital punishment.

Senator Ernie Chambers sponsored the measure to abolish the death penalty.Nebraska becomes the 19th state to replace capital punishment with life in prison without the possibility for release.

Senator Ernie Chambers, pictured at left, the longest serving member of the Nebraska Legislature, sponsored the measure. He has sponsored a bill to repeal the death penalty every year he has served in the Legislature since he was elected the first time in 1971. His repeal bill also succeeded in 1979 but was ultimately vetoed.

Ricketts had been clear he would veto Legislative Bill 268 before initial passage of the bill. In Nebraska, legislation must be approved three times before reaching the governor, and each of the three votes leading up to the override vote on Wednesday had garnered at least the minimum 30 votes necessary for the impending override.

The law will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. However, Nebraska’s constitution allows laws enacted by the Legislature to be challenged and referred to voters.

A sufficient number of signatures must be obtained and filed with the secretary of state within a limited period of time after the law is enacted by the Legislature. At least one family member of a victim of one of Nebraska’s death row inmates has vowed publicly to pursue a constitutional referendum to reinstate the death penalty.

Thirty-seven people have been executed in Nebraska since it became a state. Three of those executions have occurred since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, with the last execution being carried out by electrocution in 1997.

The state has never carried out an execution using lethal injection and, like many other states, has recently had difficulty obtaining the necessary drugs. There are currently 10 inmates on Nebraska's death row. An 11th inmate died of natural causes just three days before the bill became law.

Amber Widgery is a research analyst in NCSL’s Criminal Justice Program.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.