Nebraska is considering repealing the death penalty amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs, with legislation to eliminate capital punishment clearing a major hurdle Thursday.
Lawmakers voted 30-13 to advance the bill that would replace capital punishment with life imprisonment in first-degree murder cases. If that support holds, death penalty opponents would have enough votes to override Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ promised veto.
A coalition of Republicans who voted for the bill cast the death penalty as a wasteful and bungling government program, but Ricketts released a statement urging them to reconsider.
Nebraska hasn’t executed anyone since 1997 and has no way to carry out sentences for the 11 men sitting on death row because its supply of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic that’s part of its execution protocol, expired in December 2013. Ricketts and Republican Attorney General Doug Peterson have vowed to find a solution, but the Department of Correctional Services has yet to obtain a new supply.
Death penalty states across the nation have been forced to find new drugs and new suppliers because pharmaceutical companies, many of which of which are based in Europe, have stopped selling them for executions. Some states are looking at alternatives. Tennessee passed a law last year to reinstate the electric chair if it can’t get lethal injection drugs, and Utah has reinstated the firing squad as a backup method.
In Oklahoma, lawmakers have sent the governor a bill that would allow the state to use nitrogen gas hypoxia. That comes as executions there are on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether the state’s three-drug method of lethal injection is constitutional. Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming joined Alabama in a court filing Wednesday urging the court to uphold the use of the sedative midazolam in executions.
If Nebraska’s repeal passes, the state would join six others that have abolished the death penalty since 2000. The Delaware Senate voted last month to end capital punishment, but the bill faces an uphill battle in the House.