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As the 104th Legislature enters the last weeks of the session, some of the most contentious issues facing the body still remain to be debated. Perhaps the most controversial is LB 268, introduced by Senator Ernie Chambers, which would repeal the death penalty. The bill passed first round debate on General File. Anytime an issue relates to an individual’s life, it is a difficult and emotional topic to discuss. I have heard from a number of constituents and I have taken the opinions of both sides into account during my deliberation. It has only come after a great deal of thought, research, prayer, and reflection that I have made my decision to not support LB 268.
It is an unfortunate reality that there individuals in society capable of committing crimes so heinous and inherently violent that strict penalties are demanded – up to and including life sentences or even death. Direct communication from voters in District 38 has concurred with this principle.
At this time, 11 individuals are on death row in Nebraska. During the first round of debate on LB 268, I had the opportunity to hear the stories of these 11 individuals and the graphic details of the brutal crimes they committed. With regard to the 11 currently sentenced, their guilt is not in question. Neither is the exceptionally violent and heinous nature of their crimes. Unlike other states, Nebraska has been prudent and careful in its application of the death penalty. Our state process has not been subject to erroneous execution.
My first priority is to protect the public safety of constituents in District 38. While various reports have examined the deterrent effect of the death penalty, several resonate with me. In 2009, researchers found a 20% reduction in child murder in states that made the crime eligible for the death penalty. The punishment did not have to be carried out, merely having the penalty on the books reduced child homicide.
I do not disagree with the fiscal argument in favor of repeal of the death penalty. However, the expense incurred to protect innocent lives does not have a price. If having the death penalty accounts for just one less murder in Nebraska, I accept the cost. Although the state of Nebraska does not currently have a legal means of execution, the deterrent effect remains.
In addition, I have heard from a number of county prosecutors from across District 38 who have voiced legitimate concerns about LB 268. Capital punishment serves as a critical tool in the present-day judicial system. The presence of a death penalty affords prosecutors flexibility in dealing with offenders and power to ensure just punishments.
Governor Ricketts has already expressed strong opposition to any potential death penalty repeal. Given that, if LB 268 were to advance, it would need 30 votes to overcome a gubernatorial veto. Every vote on this bill will matter, and it promises to be a difficult decision for each Senator. Regardless of your position of agreement or disagreement, the issue is not taken lightly. Your input is valued on this polarizing debate. In the final weeks we will also be debating a number of social and fiscal issues of importance to Nebraskans. I encourage you to contact my office at 402-471-2732 or by email at email@example.com. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.
Senator John Kuehn, District 38