The words of disappointment from some Nebraskans about the recent vote to repeal the state's death penalty has turned to action. 

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty turned in its initial filing Monday with Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale, aimed at restoring the death penalty by repealing a bill (LB268) passed by the Legislature in May. 

The first action in the referendum petition process would be to gather enough signatures to keep the bill from going into effect in late August. 

If the group is successful in getting the required 10 percent of signatures by Aug. 27 -- somewhere between 112,000 to 115,000, depending on the number of registered voters on the date it is to be turned in -- the law would not go into effect and the question of restoring the death penalty would be put on the November 2016 general election ballot. 

With signatures from 5 percent of registered voters in 38 counties, the bill would go into effect in three months from the end of the session, but voters would be able to vote in November 2016 on whether to repeal or restore the death penalty.

The number of registered voters currently is at 1.13 million, said Neal Erickson, deputy secretary of state for elections.

The bill will now go to the state revisor of statutes office for review, and then back to Gale's office. That process could take up to 15 days, Erickson said. 

Stacy Anderson, executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, issued a statement Monday afternoon saying Nebraska senators, by a wide margin and after carefully researching the issue and talking with their constituents, decided ending Nebraska’s "broken" death penalty was the best policy decision for the state.

"We can’t imagine most Nebraskans will be interested in investing the tremendous amount of money and time it would take to bring back a punishment we haven’t used in nearly 20 years and have no legal means to carry out.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts has ordered two of the lethal injection drugs to be imported from out of the country, at a cost of more than $50,000. But the state does not have them in hand.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said the state cannot legally import a drug needed to carry out lethal injection, Nebraska's only legal method of execution.

"With very limited exceptions, which do not apply here, it is unlawful to import this drug, and FDA would refuse its admission into the United States," FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura told the Associated Press. 

Three Nebraskans for the Death Penalty board members are named on the referendum petition: Judy Glasburner of Geneva, Nebraska Republican Party Third District vice chairwoman; Omaha City Councilwoman Aimee Melton; and former State Board of Education member Bob Evnen of Lincoln. They are forming the ballot committee which will conduct the petition circulation process and campaign.  

A referendum is extraordinary, Evnen said. But the decision the Legislature made to repeal the death penalty is an extraordinary one. 

"I think this is a decision of very great importance and consequence to the state," Evnen said. "I feel that the people of the state ought to be allowed to have their voice heard on it."

Having capital punishment on the books is an important tool for law enforcement and important for a variety of other reasons, as well, he said.

The bill, introduced by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, who has sought to get rid of capital punishment for decades, had passed a final round May 20 on a 32-15 vote. Thirty votes were needed to override Ricketts' veto, and that vote on Wednesday was 30-19. 

Last week, Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy launched an effort -- Nebraskans for Justice -- to study a potential ballot initiative to reinstate capital punishment. His preference, he said, was to put the death penalty into the state's Constitution.

Evnen said he hoped others who were studying it will support the effort of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty for a referendum. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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