Pete Ricketts

Nebraska group says it can stop death penalty repeal


An organization campaigning to reinstate Nebraska’s death penalty after lawmakers repealed it in May said Wednesday it has collected more than enough signatures to suspend the law before it goes into effect and place it before voters in 2016.
Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, which was heavily financed by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and his family, said it had gathered 166,692 signatures from all 93 of the state’s counties. Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature had voted to repeal capital punishment over the objection of Ricketts, becoming the 1st traditionally conservative state to do so in 42 years.
The pro-death penalty group needed roughly 57,000 valid signatures from registered voters to force a statewide referendum, and double that number to immediately halt the death penalty repeal going into effect. They appear to have exceeded the 10 % of registered voters hurdle needed to block repeal pending a November 2016 ballot measure on the issue.
“Nebraskans sent a strong message about crime and punishment in our state by signing this petition in extraordinary numbers,” said state treasurer and former attorney general Don Stenberg, a co-chair of the petition drive.
The announcement came just before the repeal law was set to go into effect on Sunday, but the signatures still need to be verified. The petitions now go to the Nebraska secretary of state’s office, which will forward them to counties to verify the signatures in a process that will take about 40 days.
Republican Attorney General Doug Peterson, who supports the death penalty, said in a statement that the signatures are “presumptively valid” until determined otherwise. Stenberg said no one will know the exact number of valid signatures for at least a month, but the state constitution makes clear that petitions go into effect on the day they’re submitted.
Even if the law is suspended, Nebraska currently has no way to execute any of the 10 men on death row because its lacks 2 of the 3 required lethal injection drugs and has struggled to obtain them legally. The state paid $54,400 in May to order the drugs from a broker in India, but federal authorities have said they can’t be legally imported.
Nebraska lawmakers voted by the narrowest possible margin, 30-19, to override Ricketts’ veto. Ricketts assailed the Legislature as out of touch with the wishes of most residents. The repeal vote was helped by an unusual coalition of conservative state senators and more traditional death penalty opponents who had fought unsuccessfully for decades to eliminate the punishment. Some conservatives said they opposed it for religious and moral reasons, while others cast it as an inefficient government program that wastes tax money.
“What the Nebraska Legislature did is going to have an effect,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, whose group takes no stance on the death penalty but often criticizes how it’s administered. “The message that conservative legislators can reach across the aisle with moderate and liberal legislators – that message is still there and still resonates.”
Nebraska hasn’t executed an inmate since 1997, and has never done so using the state’s current 3-drug lethal injection protocol.
The state was the 19th to abolish capital punishment, as has the District of Columbia, while the death penalty is legal in 31 states and for some federal crimes. The number of executions in the United States has gradually declined in recent years and only a handful of states led by Texas regularly put inmates to death.
The announcement of the number of signatures caps an 82-day petition drive backed by Ricketts and his father, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. The governor had given $200,000 to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty as of the last filing deadline on July 31, while his father had donated $100,000. The group raised a total of more than $652,000 from 40 individual donors and seven groups classified as businesses, political action committees and other entities.
The largest donation in July came from the conservative, Washington-based Judicial Crisis Network, which gave $200,000. Nebraskans for the Death Penalty relied on a combination of paid and volunteer petition circulators, and was aided by an Arizona-based strategist who specializes in ballot campaigns.
Source: Associated Press, August 28, 2015

 

Gov. Pete Ricketts confident executions will happen for men on death row


 

LINCOLN — If Nebraska succeeds in importing the $54,400 in lethal injection drugs it ordered from India, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday he’s confident he won’t need to seek a refund.
During an interview Thursday on “The Bottom Line,” The World-Herald’s Internet radio broadcast, the governor was asked what happens to the state funds if the death penalty repeal ultimately remains in effect. Death penalty supporters are collecting signatures in an effort to let voters decide the fate of capital punishment in 2016.
“Would we then be able to sell it back to the people who sold it to us?” host Mike’l Severe asked. “Would we get our money back?”
The governor, a major contributor to the petition drive, said the state will need the drugs for the 10 men on death row, regardless of the drive’s outcome.
More coverage of capital punishment in Nebraska
“The Legislature actually doesn’t have the authority to go back and change sentences that have already occurred,” he said. “We’re still working under the premise that we’re going to continue to carry out the sentences for the inmates we have.”
State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, the chief sponsor of the law, has said that while the Legislature cannot change the death sentences of those already on death row, the repeal removed the statutory means for conducting an execution. That, he has said, leaves the death row inmates with a sentence that can’t be carried out.
The state has not yet imported the drugs it bought in May from a broker in India. An official with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said one of the two drugs Nebraska purchased can’t legally be imported.
Ricketts said Thursday that state officials remain in discussions with the Drug Enforcement Administration to get the drugs shipped. He offered no timeline, however, on when the drugs could arrive.
A DEA official has said the agency is working in tandem with the FDA on the issue, suggesting Nebraska would not be able to use one federal agency to go around another.
The governor repeated his stance that the death penalty is a necessary policy for public safety. In particular, he said he believes it’s important to protect law enforcement and correctional officers who work with inmates serving life terms.
“That’s why I feel so strongly the folks in Nebraska should have a chance to vote on it,” he said.
The governor also was asked about a new “re-employment” program being launched by the Nebraska Department of Labor with his support. The program seeks to get unemployed people back to work as quickly as possible.

A key part of the program requires those seeking unemployment benefits to meet with a jobs coach so they can post a résumé online. That résumé could then be searched by Nebraska employers seeking to fill vacancies.

“In a state where we have a 2.6 percent unemployment rate, we’re really working hard to make sure we can do the best job possible to connect people who are looking for jobs with the companies that have them,” he said.

Ricketts, a former executive with TD Ameritrade, often discussed how he would work to make government function more like a business if he were elected. On Thursday, he said he is requiring his department heads to set goals and devise methods for measuring progress toward the goals.

For example, he mentioned the common complaints of long hold times when citizens call into AccessNebraska, the call center for public benefits. The Department of Health and Human Services, which operates the program, now keeps monthly statistics on hold times.

“If we don’t have any measurements, how can we hold people accountable?” the governor said.