By ANNA GRONEWOLD
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Seven Republican senators announced their support for a bill to repeal the capital punishment law, saying Wednesday that any other program so costly and inefficient would have been eliminated by the Legislature years ago.
Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash said repealing the death penalty aligns with the conservative values he and others campaigned on, since it squanders tax money on endless appeals - especially since the state lacks the drug to carry out executions.
“A lot of us said things like this: ‘Send me to Lincoln, I’ll find, I’ll root out, I’ll get rid of government waste wherever I can find it,’” he said. “And that’s what repealing the death penalty is about.”
Nebraska, which last carried out an execution in 1997, currently has 11 men on death row. That most-recent execution was by electrocution, a method the Nebraska Supreme Court declared cruel and unusual in 2008.
The state’s supply of the required anesthetic for lethal injections, sodium thiopental, expired in December 2013. The drug is no longer produced in the United States, and European Union countries are prohibited from selling the drug for use in capital punishment. The state Department of Correctional Services has not obtained a new supply of the drug.
Nebraska’s death row inmates thus wait for a sentence that cannot be carried out. Death penalty sentencing also carries additional costs because of more legal preparation, separate sentencing, post-conviction appeals and the need to house those inmates apart from the general prison population.
A 2014 report by the Kansas Judicial Council found that a death row prisoner in the state costs $49,380 to house per year, compared with a general population prisoner cost of $24,690. The report also found that cases in which the death penalty was sought cost nearly four times as much as cases in which it was not sought.
Bellevue Sen. Tommy Garrett said taxpayer dollars aside, the death penalty gives state governments the “power to play God,” which conflicts with his beliefs.
“I believe in the sanctity of life,” Garrett said. “I belief life begins at conception and should be protected until God calls the individual home.”
Marc Hyden, advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, said eliminating capital punishment can unite political parties.
“This can bring us together for different reasons,” Hyden said. “Mine is about protecting innocent life and promoting fiscal responsibility in government and supporting programs that actually work. It’s not just a liberal issue, it’s a conservative issue.”
The Legislature is expected to debate the repeal Thursday, but the bill will likely face opposition.
Lawmakers who support the death penalty said the costs and legal hurdles have grown because of deliberate efforts by those who oppose the practice to prevent the state from carrying out executions.
“They’re the ones who appealed. They’re the ones throwing up roadblocks,” said Sen. Bill Kintner, of Papillion.
Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, who helped block a repeal the last time it advanced in 2013, has maintained his support for the death penalty. McCoy has already filed seven amendments and a motion to kill the bill, the groundwork for a filibuster.
The bill’s sponsor, Independent Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, has fought for nearly 40 years to end capital punishment. The Legislature passed a repeal once, in 1979, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Charles Thone. If it passes this year, senators would likely have to override a veto by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who supports the death penalty.