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Conservative Nebraska Lawmakers Just Made History by Outlawing the Death Penalty

Nebraska's Republican-controlled legislature voted to override their governor’s veto and become the 19th state to abolish capital punishment.
May 27, 2015, 10:10pm
Photo by Nate Jenkins/AP

Nebraska became the 19th state to outlaw the death penalty on Wednesday after a landmark vote that saw a coalition of conservative lawmakers come together to override the governor's veto of previous legislation to abolish capital punishment.

The state senate, where Republicans hold a majority, went against GOP Governor Pete Ricketts's veto to become the first traditionally conservative state to outlaw the death penalty since 1973. The last time Nebraska lawmakers managed to pass a death penalty repeal bill was in 1979, but according to the Associated Press, the senators were not able to override the gubernatorial veto that year.

Many of the state's legislators said that while they supported the idea of the death penalty, they believed legal obstacles would prevent Nebraska from actually employing it. The state lost execution ability in December 2013 after the expiration of one of the three different injection drugs it is required by law to use. The last time Nebraska executed an inmate by electrocution was in 1997.

Related: Three Countries Were Responsible for 70 Percent of the World's Executions in 2014

Ricketts said in May that state officials had purchased two of the drugs, but this did not appear to sway the state senate during the vote. State Senator Ernie Chambers, who has fought for nearly four decades to get rid of the death penalty, sponsored the bill. Authorities were reportedly investigating death threats made to one of the bill's supporters.

Amnesty International supported the vote in a statement on Wednesday, highlighting the decline in both the use of the death penalty and the issuance of death sentences.

"Nebraska's legislature has bravely stood up for human rights by upholding this bill," Amnesty International USA executive director Steven W. Hawkins said in a statement. "As the nation and the world continue to abandon this broken and unjust punishment, it is only a matter of time before the 31 remaining states end the death penalty forever."

There are currently 10 men on Nebraska's death row. Michael Ryan, who spent 30 years on death row, died on Sunday of natural causes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.