The 107th Session of the Nebraska Legislature is in full swing! Unfortunately, for the first time in perhaps decades, no bill to repeal the death penalty has been introduced—but careful analysis has uncovered four bills worth supporting in the struggle to replace capital punishment once and for all. Read on to learn more about these bills, as well as what you can do to add your voice to the record. First, the bills:
As introduced, LB28 would provide a clear pathway for defendants to motion for a retrial whenever new evidence emerges that was either unavailable or concealed during the original trial and sentencing. This is especially important in cases where a defendant received a sentence of life—or death. A justice system that allows imprisoned people a chance to present new evidence in hopes of receiving a lesser sentence (or exoneration!) is a justice system that is safer for everyone. This bill has already had its committee hearing, though it remains to be seen whether it will proceed to the floor of the Unicameral for consideration by the full body.
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that sentencing someone to death for a crime they committed as a minor (under age 18) violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, experts from numerous established neuroscientific institutions have strongly suggested raising that minimum age to 21, as new research continues to deepen understanding of the rate at which adolescents' brains develop into adulthood. This bill would prohibit the imposition of the death penalty (as well as life without possibility of parole) on defendants who were under the age of 21 at the time their offenses were committed. This bill is set for a hearing before the Judiciary Committee at 1:30pm on Wednesday, February 17, in Room 1113 of the Capitol.
This bill would require the announcement, in open court, of the projected public incarceration costs of each and every person sentenced to imprisonment under the jurisdiction of the Department of Correctional Services—including those sentenced to death. We are hoping to work with Senator Flood to increase the specificity of costs included in this announcement in cases where the death penalty is imposed, such as the added costs of appeals, the average length of time between sentencing and execution, as well as the costs of the execution process itself. As you may know, the death penalty policy is extremely expensive, and it's our hope that stating the projected cost up front at sentencing will bring greater awareness about the huge amount of resources we throw away on this broken system each year. This bill is set for a hearing before the Judiciary Committee at 9:30am on Wednesday, February 10, in Room 1113 of the Capitol.
The Nebraska Racial Justice Act, as this bill is known, would provide recourse for convicted offenders who wish to demonstrate that racial bias affected their case at any point: from the initial investigation, through charging decisions, prosecution, jury selection, trial, defense, and all the way to sentencing. A significant body of research has shown that racial bias continues to persist throughout the criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to the imposition of the death penalty. Similar legislation passed in other states has yielded compelling results, and you can learn more from our allies at the Nebraska Racial Justice Coalition. This bill is set for a hearing before the Judiciary Committee at 1:30pm on Thursday, February 25, in Room 1113 of the Capitol.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Raise your voice! There are several ways to submit testimony or comments on bills that you would like to see become law, and each method carries a different weight. Here's a brief rundown:
In-person testimony is the most effective way to share your views on a bill! The committee chair (Senator Lathrop, in this case) has final say on the hearing agenda—but typically, the Senator introducing the bill addresses the committee first and answers any questions committee members might have. After they finish, the committee will hear testimony in support of the bill followed by testimony against the bill. Offering your testimony in person can convey passion in ways that written testimony often cannot, and committee members may ask questions as well. In the age of COVID-19, however, it is very important that you consider the risks of in-person testimony—and if you decide to proceed, you'll definitely want to take proper precautions (well-fitting facemask, social distancing, hand sanitizer, etc.). Testimony is typically limited to three minutes, so we recommend you write out your testimony in advance, and practice it a few times with a stopwatch! You may leave as soon as you finish.
Emailed testimony is also very effective, and much safer. It is now possible to submit what is known as a "Position Letter" to a single email address, which will deliver your testimony to every member of the committee at once, and add it to the public hearing record. For the Judiciary Committee, that email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Important: in order for your testimony to be considered and added to the public hearing record, it must be submitted before noon on the last working day before the hearing.
Written testimony in lieu of in-person testimony is effective, but the process is a bit of a challenge. To submit written testimony in lieu of in-person testimony, you must physically deliver 12 printed copies of your comments to Room 1113 of the Capitol between 8:30am and 9:30am on the day of the hearing, and sign a record form when you do. Submissions may be no longer than two pages single-spaced, or four pages double-spaced. Your testimony will show up in the hearing record as in-person testimony, but with a note specifying that it was in written form. Although this method is less risky with regard to COVID-19, your window of time is relatively short.
Submission of online comments can be done on each bill's page via a wide button at the top of the bill's "History" section that reads "Submit Comments Online for LB###". Comments submitted in this way do not count as testimony and are not added to the hearing record, but they are viewable by all Senators and legislative staff.
Finally, as usual, you may call, write, or email your Senator directly. This approach will be especially effective in showing support for any bill that is voted out of committee for full consideration on the floor of the Unicameral! If you're not sure who your Senator is, you can find out by entering your address on this page. And don't forget, you can watch the livestream of the hearings from home!
As always, thank you so very much for everything you do. If you would like to contact us for any reason, feel free to reach out to email@example.com at any time—and if you are able, any resources you would like to donate helps fuel this vital mission. Towards justice!