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On November 8, 2016 the voters of Nebraska overwhelmingly passed Referendum 426, which preserved the death penalty in the state of Nebraska. LB 268, passed in 2015, eliminated the death penalty and was suspended shortly after when more than 143,000 Nebraskans signed a referendum petition to allow a vote of the people. The second house of the Nebraska Legislature, the people, exercised their rights through the referendum and electoral process. With 92 of 93 counties and 61 percent of all voters voting to preserve the death penalty in Nebraska, the people spoke clearly.
A frequent claim of death penalty opponents is that the system for carrying out the death penalty is broken beyond repair. It is now the responsibility of the elected officials and state agencies to respect the will of the people and fix the functional problems with the death penalty.
One of the most significant impediments to a functional system of capital punishment in Nebraska, and many other states, is the inability to acquire the anesthetic drugs administered to produce unconsciousness during lethal injection. The drugs are unavailable a result of political activism by death penalty opponents and public harassment of companies that manufacture the drug. Due to these shortages, many states have had to turn to specialized compounding pharmacies to formulate individual drug doses. Some states like Nebraska have unsuccessfully attempted to import the anesthetics internationally.
I introduced LB 661, to amend public records statutes to protect the identity of individuals or companies who supply drugs for lethal injection. Known as a “shield law”, the law protects individuals involved in the manufacture of drugs used executions from harassment and threats. The integrity of the drugs and transparency of the execution process is maintained, as the drug and laboratory analysis of the drug is still publicly available. Only the identity of the individual private citizen is confidential. Thirteen states already have existing shield laws in place.
I remain a steadfast advocate of transparency in government, including the votes of public officials. When I am acting as your elected representative, my votes are a function of my elected office. They must be available to you to see. Private citizens, however, have a right to protection from undue harassment and threats for carrying out their duties. Pharmacists and private citizens have not voluntarily pursued public office.
To illustrate the principle, an analogy of the safety of manufactured products can be made. The safety of a lamp you purchase and manufacturing information should be public. However, the actual employee who assembled the parts of your lamp should be free from harassment if you are unhappy with your lamp. Similarly, the identity of the individual who manufactures an anesthetic is immaterial to the process of execution, provided public scrutiny of the drug and its purity are openly available.
LB 661 is written specifically to address only public records statutes. It does not impact the judicial application, sentencing, or court process regarding the death penalty as a punishment. Rather, it simply fixes a procedural issue in public records that contributes to a dysfunctional system.
I understand and respect all views on capital punishment. However, it is my responsibility as state senator to be responsive to the will of Nebraskans, and the citizens in my district, and make government programs they demand work.