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Neb. OKs Moratorium on Executions

May 20, 1999

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ The Nebraska Legislature today became the first in the nation to place a moratorium on executions.

The bill would put a two-year ban on executions while a study is done to see if the death penalty is being applied fairly in the state. Death sentences could be imposed during the two years, but no executions would take place.

The one-chamber, nonpartisan Legislature approved the bill on a vote of 27-21 _ two more than the 25 needed to pass it.

A Republican and Catholic in his first year in office, Gov. Mike Johanns must decide whether to maintain his longtime stance in favor of the death penalty and veto the bill, or sign it into law and jostle his party’s platform.

Johanns has said he would wait until the measure reaches his desk to make a decision. The bill was expected to reach him later today. He has five days to consider it.

The American Bar Association and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops have called for such moratoriums. Other states have considered them but have not approved legislation, said the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group in Washington.

The Illinois House recently passed a resolution endorsing a study of the death penalty that would include a six-month moratorium on executions and a task force to study the issue.

Johanns could choose to take no action on the Nebraska measure and it would become law automatically. State GOP chief Chuck Sigerson has urged the governor to veto it.

``Support of the death penalty is essential to the (GOP) platform,″ Sigerson said.

Three men have been put to death since Nebraska resumed executions in 1994 after a 35-year hiatus.

Johanns discussed the moratorium privately with Sens. Ernie Chambers and Kermit Brashear, the sponsors who pushed the bill through three rounds of debate.

Chambers has proposed abolishing the death penalty every year since his election in 1970, but Brashear’s support for the moratorium surprised statehouse insiders.

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