Capitol: Death penalty bill put on hold

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January 27th, 2012

Lincoln, NE – Debate on abolishing the death penalty in Nebraska has been put on hold, at least for now. But senators signaled the argument may resume later this year.

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It was the second day of debate this year on a proposal to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life in prison. And before it ended, senators provided a foretaste of what may be a key issue going forward: how the state obtained one of the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections.

Sen. Brenda Council has worked to halt the death penalty in Nebraska since she took office in 2009. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Unable to purchase the drug in the United States, Nebraska officials got it from overseas. But the head of the company that manufactured it says it was obtained under false pretenses. State officials maintain they purchased it legitimately from a middleman. But Omaha Sen. Brenda Council cited what she said was noted on an export-import form.

“The box checked? ‘Legitimate medical need,’” Council said. “An execution is a legitimate medical need? And we’re going to be complicit in this conduct?”

But Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, a death penalty supporter, suggested the importation issue was a distraction being used by opponents.

“Now we’re talking about supposedly shameful conduct on the part of the Attorney General’s office in trying to obtain the drugs medically necessary – it’s a sedative – medically necessary to carry out the death penalty,” Lautenbaugh said. “What I see as kind of shameful is that we’re having litigation surrounding that process, with motions being filed in the wrong court by attorneys who know better – should know better. This is beyond zealous representation.”

After a few hours of debate, Council filed a motion to indefinitely postpone her own bill – a parliamentary maneuver that enables her to take it off the agenda without killing it.

In a later interview, she said she wants to leave time to see how the drug issue works out, while preserving the opportunity for senators to reconsider the bill later on this session.

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