Filibuster sinks death penalty repeal in Nebraska Legislature - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 11:29 am / Updated at 3:50 pm
Filibuster sinks death penalty repeal in Nebraska Legislature

LINCOLN — Capital punishment in Nebraska may owe its survival to the filibuster.

Despite mounting their most successful effort at repealing the death penalty in years, state senators who oppose capital punishment were thwarted Tuesday from having a vote on the issue. That's because they couldn't convince at least 33 of the 49 senators to end a filibuster.

Opponents of expanding the Medicaid system, as proposed under the federal health care law, also recently used a filibuster to block a vote on that bill.

The twin outcomes have some suggesting that it now takes a super­majority of senators, rather than just 25, to pass major, contested legislation in the nonpartisan, single-house Nebraska Legislature.

“If we can't get a general file vote, it does look like Washington, D.C., it does look like dysfunction,” said Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, who supported both bills blocked by the filibusters.

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, who opposes the Medicaid expansion and the death penalty, said some of the conservative initiatives he supported in past sessions have been blocked by filibusters.

“I think members need to be careful not to be hypocritical,” McCoy said. “The rule book is available to all of us to use.”

Because supporters of the death penalty repeal bill could not cut off debate Tuesday, the bill will not return to the agenda before the session ends June 5, said Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams of York.

The vote to end the filibuster failed 28-21. The result suggests supporters of the bill may have had 25 votes or more to advance the measure to the second-round of debate.

Even if supporters ultimately passed the bill, they probably would have been forced to find the 30 votes needed to override the governor's expected veto.

Regardless of Tuesday's outcome, this year's debate showed that the Legislature clearly has moved more toward the center on the death penalty. As recently as 2009, only 13 senators voted in favor of abolishing executions.

Nebraska lawmakers voted to repeal the death penalty in 1979, but they could not overcome a veto by then-Gov. Charles Thone.

For at least another year, Nebraska remains one of 32 states with the death penalty. Three men have been executed since capital punishment was reinstated in 1973, with the last execution carried out in 1997.

Iowa has not had capital punishment for 48 years.

How they voted

Cloture motion on Legislative Bill 543 (33 votes needed to cut off filibuster)

Yes (28): Adams, Ashford, Avery, Bolz, Campbell, Chambers, Coash, Conrad, Cook, Crawford, Davis, Dubas, K. Haar, Hadley, B. Harr, Howard, Johnson, Kolowski, Krist, Lathrop, McGill, Mello, Murante, Nordquist, Schumacher, Seiler, Sullivan, Wallman

No (21): Bloomfield, Brasch, Carlson, Christensen, Gloor, Hansen, Harms, Janssen, Karpisek, Kintner, Larson, Lautenbaugh, McCoy, Nelson, Pirsch, Price, Scheer, Schilz, Smith, Watermeier, Wightman

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha made Tuesday's cloture motion to end the filibuster, saying it was the first time he has done so in his 39 years in the Legislature. He introduced and prioritized Legislative Bill 543, which would have replaced lethal injection with life in prison without parole.

Chambers also has been a master of the filibuster and other rules to delay or kill legislation he opposes. He said Tuesday that he will deal with those who prevented a vote on the repeal bill.

“When you give it, you have to be willing to take it,” he said.

He also said all those who are disappointed by Tuesday's outcome need to keep in mind the bill will carry over to the 2014 session, where it will not have to go through a committee hearing before it gets another first-round debate.

Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, who led the filibuster against the repeal bill, said Tuesday he's convinced that several senators who voted to end debate would have voted against the underlying legislation.

So why not let it come to a vote?

“I said up front I would do whatever was necessary to not allow a repeal of the death penalty,” he said.

Veteran lawmakers have said past repeal bills have received an up-or-down vote. This was the first one blocked by a filibuster.

Lautenbaugh disagreed with those who suggest that some bills should not be held up by filibusters because they are so significant they deserve a vote.

“The rules for cloture don't apply just to trivial issues and not the major issues,” he said. “That's a very situational outrage.”

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion reflected the view of several senators when he said the nature of the one-house Legislature makes the filibuster an important tool to ensure that some legislation clears a higher standard for passage. Nebraska lawmakers can't pass the buck to the second house or rely on conference committees to hammer out differences.

Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, a conservative who supports the repeal of capital punishment, said opinions on whether a filibuster is appropriate often change depending upon a senator's support for the bill in question.

“I truly believe we need the filibuster,” he said. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't.”

Contact the writer:

402-473-9587, joe.duggan@owh.com

More Legislature coverage, resources

Meet your senators
• Map: Find your senator
More Legislature coverage
The State Line: World-Herald Legislature blog

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan

joe.duggan@owh.com    |  

Joe works in the Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, state Supreme Court and southeast Nebraska.

More Nebraskans are electing to vote early
Nebraska's U.S. Senate candidates stick to familiar topics at Omaha forum
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
8% of alcohol sellers checked in Omaha area last week sold booze to minors
OPS bus, SUV collide; no students onboard at the time
Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
Lori Jenkins, charged as accessory in 4 murders, waives speedy trial
Iowa State servers hacked, nearly 30,000 SSNs at risk
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
2nd District House race: After 8 terms, Lee Terry knows how D.C. works — and doesn't
Bellevue man is killed at Minnesota dance hall after South Sudanese basketball tourney
Spring corn planting still sputters in Nebraska, Iowa, other key states
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
19-year-old killed in one-vehicle crash at 72nd & Shirley
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
U.S. Senate race: State Auditor Mike Foley defends Shane Osborn against ad campaign
Public defender to represent Nikko Jenkins in sentencing
Mid-America Center on track for lower operating loss
Bluffs City Council approves dozens of new numbered street lights
National Law Enforcement Memorial Week set for May
Ted Cruz backs Pete Ricketts' campaign for governor
Omahan charged with 5th-offense DUI after street race causes rollover
2 blocks of Grover Street closed
Safety board report blames pilot error in 2013 crash that killed UNO student, passenger
Omaha man accused in shooting ordered held on $75,000 bail
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
The idea that Paul Hogan had studied and then hatched at his mother's table was that older people, rather than moving in with relatives or to an assisted-living center, would much prefer to stay home instead.
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Breaking Brad: Even Chuck Hassebrook's throwing mud!
The Nebraska campaigns have turned so ugly, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook lobbed unfounded accusations at an imaginary opponent.
Breaking Brad: Kraft wiener recall is business opportunity for TD Ameritrade Park
Instead of returning the wieners, TD Ameritrade Park is calling them "cheese dogs" and charging double.
Breaking Brad: Photos with the Easter Bunny are so 2010
In a sign of the times, most kids ran out of patience waiting for a photo with the Easter Bunny at the mall, just snapped a selfie and went home.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Tokyo Sushi
$5 for $10 or $10 for $20 toward All-You-Can-Eat Sushi Purchase
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »