A measure to repeal Nebraska’s death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life without parole fell one vote short of moving to the second of three stages in consideration by the unicameral legislature. It was the first time the full legislature had debated the death penalty in nearly two decades. The measure’s defeat followed two days of debate about capital punishment, including whether decisions to impose the death penalty reflect social, economic or racial bias. In addition, some legislators criticized the state’s death penalty as arbitrary in nature.

Legislators admitted that they wrestled with the issue as both a matter of public policy and conscience. Senator Brad Ashford, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that he found the punishment to be arbitrary because there are inmates serving life sentences in the state whose crimes were every bit as heinous as those committed by the people on Nebraska’s death row. Senator Tom Carlson, who classified himself as “pro-life,” said, “To be consistently pro-life, maybe I should oppose the death penalty.” In the end, Carlson and Ashford were both among the 24 legislators who voted to advance the bill for more debate. Twenty-five legislators voted against advacement. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Ernie Chambers, said he would try to win passage of a similar measure next year.

(Nebraska State Paper, March 20, 2007). See Recent Legislative Activity and Life Without Parole.