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Gov. Pete Ricketts on Friday appealed directly to the constituents of senators who voted to abolish the death penalty, urging them to ask their legislators to flip their votes and sustain his approaching veto of the landmark legislation.

With senators at home in their districts over the long Memorial Day holiday weekend, the governor said, "this would be a great time to reach out to them."

The Legislature passed the death penalty bill (LB268) on Wednesday on a 32-15 vote. Thirty votes would be required to override the governor's veto.

In Nebraska, the governor said, "the people are the second house (and) I ask the second house to reach out to and talk to senators."

Ricketts' remarks were aimed directly at a bank of television cameras and other news media when he answered questions at the end of a news conference called to urge Nebraskans to wear their seat belts and drive carefully during the holiday weekend.

The governor said he has been talking directly to some senators about their votes, but he would not identify them, say how many or indicate whether any have told him they would flip their votes.

"I am working very hard talking to senators (and) trying to get those three votes," he said. That's the number of switches that could change the end result.

"The overwhelming number of Nebraskans I have talked with support the death penalty," Ricketts said.

"Senators aren't in touch with their constituents."

Later in the day, 13 senators who described themselves as conservatives rallied to the support of Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, who has been under attack from some critics for changing his vote to support final passage of the death penalty bill.

"We know that Mike Gloor is not ideologically opposed to the death penalty, but rather as a thoughtful, practical person he recognizes that Nebraska's inability to carry out an execution is unfair to victims' families," the statement read.

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"Repealing the death penalty and replacing it with the sentence of life with no possibility of parole ensures the most heinous criminals never see the light of day."

The senators, with Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln acting as their spokesman, said Gloor is "grounded in our values as fiscal conservatives and people of faith."

In his conversations with senators, Ricketts said, he has told them the death penalty needs to be an option for "the most heinous crimes."

The governor's veto of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, is due when the Legislature returns on Tuesday.

Ricketts has scheduled a news conference at the Capitol on Tuesday at 3 p.m. to discuss his veto.

On another legislative issue, the governor declined to say whether he would veto legislation to remove Nebraska's ban on driver's licenses for the children of undocumented immigrants who settled in the United States.

The governor opposes the bill (LB623), but said he would give the question of a veto "due consideration."

The measure passed the Legislature on Thursday by a 34-9 vote. Ricketts has until Wednesday to veto it. 

Ricketts was joined by a number of Nebraska State Patrol troopers for his highway safety remarks outside the Department of Roads headquarters.

The vast majority of motorists who die in traffic accidents on Nebraska highways are not wearing seatbelts, the governor said.

"Buckle up," he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSDon.

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