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While acknowledging there are legal issues to be resolved, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday he remains determined to carry out the death sentences imposed in Nebraska prior to the Legislature's repeal of the death penalty last week.

"We are proceeding because that's what we're supposed to do, not retroactively change these sentences that were handed down by a judge," the governor said during a telephone call from Washington.

Senators who supported repeal of the death penalty argue that there is no legal means of execution in the state now, despite the sentences imposed on 10 men on death row.

The Legislature repealed the death penalty last week over the veto of the governor.

Ricketts noted that Attorney General Doug Peterson plans to seek a declaratory judgment from the Nebraska Supreme Court to resolve the  dispute over pending death sentences.

Also awaiting resolution is a Federal Drug Administration ruling that one of three lethal injection drugs that would be used in the executions cannot be legally imported into the United States.

Ricketts announced earlier that the state has purchased the drugs to be used in executing the death penalty under Nebraska's lethal injection law.

Acknowledging the FDA's statement, the governor said the state is researching that issue and has been in communication with FDA, and "we will work through it."

"We will look for ways to be able to carry out the sentences," Ricketts said. "We believe there is a path to that."

Ricketts said his role in promoting a petition drive seeking a referendum vote of the people to nullify the new law and restore the death penalty is "yet to be defined."

But, in any event, he said, he will speak in favor of restoration of the death penalty when he is traveling the state.

Later in the day, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty announced it is moving ahead swiftly to begin the petition drive.

Lincoln Strategy Group, based in Arizona, will help organize the paid petition circulation effort, according to Chris Peterson, media spokesman for the referendum drive.

Rod Edwards of Omaha, who managed Andy Stebbing's recent Lincoln mayoral campaign, will be field director. Edwards also has filled campaign roles for State Auditor Charlie Janssen, former Attorney General Jon Bruning and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. 

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Ricketts spoke about the death penalty issue following his testimony to a congressional committee opposing a proposed National Labor Relations Board rule that would allow labor unions to collect fees from nonunion members for processing workplace grievance cases.

"That would be a direct violation of what we put in our (state) constitution," the governor said.

Nebraska's Right to Work provision, which prohibits agreements that would require nonunion members to pay dues or fees in a unionized workplace, was approved by voters in 1946, Ricketts said.

"People should have the freedom to choose whether they want to be in a union," he said. 

"That's why I hopped on a plane today to go to Washington to make sure we retain the integrity of our Right to Work law," he said.

Ricketts testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workplace at a hearing billed as the "threat against Right to Work laws."

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

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