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A serious and somber debate about repeal of the death penalty was held by the Nebraska Legislature last week. A filibuster by proponents of the death penalty prevented a vote to advance LB 543, the bill that would have abolished Nebraska’s death penalty. State senators spent eight hours discussing the issue. I was among the 28 senators who voted for cloture, a procedural vote that would stop debate and allow a vote on amendments and the bill. Unfortunately, there were not enough senators in favor of advancing the bill and ending the filibuster. When a cloture motion fails, debate on the bill ends for the day. LB 543, remains on General File, and is available for discussion again.
LB 543 is an important bill, and I appreciate the opportunity to debate the issue. Currently, Nebraska is one of thirty-two states that has retained capital punishment. The average death penalty case costs $3 million to prosecute, compared to $1.1 million for cases of life without parole. In Nebraska, there have been 260 first-degree murder convictions since 1973. Thirty-three of these offenders were given the death penalty. Of those 33 cases, only three men have been executed during the past 30 years. There are eleven men on death row in Nebraska today.
There are many arguments on both sides of this issue. I oppose the death penalty for several reasons, including cost, concern regarding the fair implementation of the law, and the risk of error. In the United States alone, 306 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence to date, and 18 of these individuals had served time on death row. The death penalty is permanent; we cannot risk the possibility of making an irreversible mistake.
Importantly, I have also heard from an overwhelming number of constituents who support repeal of the death penalty, and their moral conviction is compelling to me. Thank you to all of the constituents who contacted my office in opposition to the death penalty. Thank you also to Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, the Nebraska Innocence Project, and the Nebraska Catholic Conference for providing supporting documentation that was very helpful to me in preparing for this debate.