Nebraska became the first traditionally red state in decades to outlaw the death penalty Wednesday when its legislature voted to override the governor's veto on the issue. Thirty of the Unicameral's 49 senators voted in favor of abolishing capital punishment, the Washington Post reported, giving them a close victory over Gov. Pete Ricketts' wishes.
“My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families,” Ricketts said in a statement. Ricketts vetoed LB 268, which swapped death penalty sentences for life in prison without parole, on Tuesday. “While the legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue.”
Nebraska was the 19th state to repeal the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Capital punishment in the state has fallen out of use in recent years -- the last execution was in 1997, and there were 10 inmates on death row there.
Wednesday's override vote was seen by many as a landmark decision because the last Republican state to forbid it was North Dakota, in 1973.
"Nebraska's vote marks the end of the death penalty in the United States," Equal Justice USA executive director Shari Silberstein said in a statement to the Huffington Post. "Americans have been moving away from executions for more than 10 years, but now we have a red state turning that trend into law for the first time in 40 years. Nebraska has shown the nation what happens when you put aside partisan politics and embrace simple common sense."
But the fight might not be over. Right after the session ended, Sen. Beau McCoy started the group Nebraskans for Justice, which will explore the possibility of petitioning the government for a public vote on the issue, the Omaha World-Herald reported. It had more than 360 Facebook likes as of 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday.