Nebraska lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty, overriding a veto from the governor and making that state the 19th in the country to ban capital punishment, reported the Washington Post.
The narrow vote made Nebraska the first state in two years to formally abandon the death penalty, a decision that comes amid a decline in executions and roiling uncertainty regarding how to carry out lethal injections.
Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) had been a vocal critic of the bill before he vetoed it on, calling it “cruel” to the relatives of the victims of people sentenced to death in a letter to the legislature.
In the unicameral Nebraska legislature, it takes 30 of the 49 senators to override the veto. Last week, 32 senators voted to repeal the death penalty. A spokesman for Ricketts said that he had been traveling the state to visit senators in an effort to sustain his veto.
The override’s single-vote margin follows a recent trend of razor-thin votes on the death penalty: New Hampshire the last state in New England with the death penalty, almost abolished it last year, but the bill failed by a single vote. Earlier this year, Montana’s legislature deadlocked on a bill that would have banned the death penalty there.
Maryland was the last state to formally abolish the death penalty, abandoning it in 2013 and emptying its death row earlier this year.
More than a third of the states without the death penalty have banned it since 2007. And while 31 states and the federal government still have the death penalty, in reality only a small handful of states actually carry out executions. Last year, seven states carried out executions, about a third the number of states that executed inmates 15 years earlier, while the number of death sentences and executions have also dropped.
“What we’re seeing is a continuation of the trend in the United States, in which states, one by one, abolish the use of the death penalty,” Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Wednesday. “And one by one, it comes into disuse.”
Dunham said that Nebraska’s decision offers a “road map that other states may follow.”
Some states have also halted the practice without formally abolishing it. Washington state announced a moratorium last year, while Pennsylvania’s governor suspended the death penalty there in February. Oregon’s new governor said this year she will keep that state’s moratorium in place.
[Another execution gone awry. Now what?]
Other states dealing with legal challenges or an ongoing shortage of lethal injection drugs have imposed their own delays, creating de facto moratoriums in some places. After Ohio adopted a new lethal injection policy this year, it pushed back its executions scheduled through January 2016. As a result, Ohio — among the most active modern death-penalty states — will go at least two years without any executions.
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