The Nebraska Event
This week, the Nebraska legislature shocked the nation by voting to abolish the death penalty in what is generally considered to be a politically conservative state. State legislators, by overriding the veto of Nebraska Republican governor Pete Ricketts voted to make that state the 19th in the US to ban capital punishment. The vote comes at a time when executions in America are in secular decline and uncertainty over how to carry out death sentences seems to be at an all-time high.
Meanwhile, Ohio State Senators Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, and Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland are preparing to introduce legislation that would bar that state from executing killers where are diagnosed as “seriously mentally ill” at the time of the crime. Ohio law currently prohibits the execution of mentally disabled people, but not the mentally ill. The proposed legislation comes in the wake of a landmark study published by the Ohio Supreme Court Death Penalty Task in 2014. The bill proposed by Senators Seitz and Williams is one of about ten of the recommendations highlighted in the 2014 study.
Prior to his veto, Nebraska Governor Rickets wrote a letter to the Nebraska legislature detailing his view that repealing the State’s death penalty brought on a climate of cruelty to the victims of people who were sentenced to death. Nebraska’s 49-member legislature requires 30 votes to override a veto and that is the number of state lawmakers who voted to override Governor Ricketts’ veto. Nebraska’s vote to repeal the death penalty is actually very unusual for a conservative state. Prior to Nebraska’s vote, the most recent state to repeal the death penalty was North Dakota in 1973.
“A vote to override a veto is a very different vote,” said Nebraska State Senator Colby Coash, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill to repeal the death penalty.
“I knew it was tenuous at best. It went down to the end,” Coash said in a telephone interview after the override passed. “I knew it was going to be difficult.”
“My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families,” Ricketts said in the statement. “While the legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue.”
Support for the death penalty in the United States has generally been on the decline over the recent 25 years. Polls have shown that voter support for the death penalty has declined from an all-time high of 80 percent during the 1990s and currently hovers around 60 percent. This is a dramatic decline and has political experts in all areas of the political spectrum trying to guage voter sentiment over the death penalty and how it might affect the upcoming 2016 presidential race. Public opinion regarding the death penalty seems more unstable than ever.
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