Bill to abolish death penalty put on hold

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January 26, 2012 - 6:00pm

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.

Friday was the second day of debate this year on a proposal to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life in prison. Before the discussion 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.

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 said a box checked on an export-import form read "Legitimate medical need."

Sen. Brenda Council

"An execution is a legitimate medical need? And we're going to be complicit in this conduct?" Council asked.

Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, a death penalty supporter, suggested the importation issue was a distraction being used by opponents. Lautenbaugh said the drug in question is a sedative which is medically necessary to carry out the death penalty. And far from "shameful conduct" oppenents allege by the Attorney General's office, Lautenbaugh said, "What I see as kind of shameful is that we're having litigation surrounding that process." He said attorneys who ought to know better had filed motions in the wrong court, going beyond what would be "zealous representation" of their clients.

Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh

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.

Sen. Amanda McGill

In a public hearing Friday afternoon, the Health and Human Services Committee considered proposals to restructure the Foster Care review board. Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill wants to prohibit anyone from serving whose employer receives funds from the Department of Helath and Human Services. The board is supposed to monitor performance of the foster care system, which is administered by the Department.

Former Lancaster County Attorney Gary Lacey supported McGill's bill. He said board members should not have a conflict of interest. "It's wrong, and it lends to all this dysfunction among the agencies, and most of all, it leads to all this mess that we have right now in both agencies, and nobody remembers what they're there for, which is to protect the kids," said Lacey.

Another proposal, by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist,

Sen. Bob Krist

would abolish the Foster Care Review Board and create an office directly responsible to the Legislature. But Marcia Anderson, a member of the Foster Care Review Board, said no member in her experience had ever tried to protect the Deparment of Health and Human Services. "I believe a change in the board composition would diminish the wealth of knowledge and experience available to the agency and to the state," Anderson said, adding "With such immediate and important issues with regard to the children in Nebraska's care, I believe all of our attention should be on the work to improve the child welfare system."

The committee took no immediate action on either proposal.




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