The U.S. state of Nebraska, located in the middle of the country, became the 19th U.S. state to abolish capital punishment on Wednesday as legislators narrowly voted to override the Republican governor’s veto of a bill repealing the death penalty.
The state’s legislature voted 30 to 19, the exact number of votes needed to override Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts’ veto, to replace capital punishment with a term of life without the possibility of parole.
Nebraska became the first majority Republican state to repeal the death penalty since another U.S. state not far away from Nebraska, North Dakota, did the same nearly half a century ago, in 1973. Nebraska has not executed an inmate since 1997 though, according to the U.S. Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks capital punishment.
“Whenever anything historic occurs, it’s never the doing of one person,” said independent Sen. Ernie Chambers, an independent who introduced a repeal measure 38 times. “I’ve been pushing for this for 40 years, but all of this time it has never been done. If it could be done by one man, it would have been done a long time ago.”
The current Governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, is a death penalty supporter and vetoed the bill, calling capital punishment a deterrent to crime. Nebraska recently purchased new drugs to be used in lethal injections.
Debate about executions in the U.S. has revived in recent years across the country after a number of lethal injections went badly and were seen as human rights violations. Another state towards the west of the U.S., Utah, brought back firing squads — largely
seen an antiquated and barbaric among many Americans — as a backup capital punishment because of a shortage on lethal injection drugs, which are increasingly seen as less and less reliable.
Nebraska Senator Matt Hansen also pointed out that the death penalty is often seemingly applied arbitrarily as a punishment and it’s not seen as clearly defined when it comes to who should and shouldn’t receive this ultimate form of retribution.
Nebraska’s action to repeal the death penalty is unusual because of its traditionally conservative leanings. Maryland, a state that borders the U.S. capitol of Washington, D.C., was the most recent state before Nebraska, to end capital punishment, in 2013. Three other moderate to liberal U.S. states have done so in recent years. New Mexico did so in 2009, Illinois in 2011 and Connecticut followed in 2012.
Story compiled with information from the AP and Reuters and adapted for an international audience by CCTV America Digital