As the final week of a chaotic and interrupted legislative session winds down, state senators' frustrations with process and disparate priorities continue to boil over. Tempers flare, criticisms are loosed more freely, and procedural moves become weaponized. That's why, in a session so often fraught with contention and animus, it becomes important to celebrate occasions where a bill advances with near-unanimity. Lincoln Senator Patty Pansing Brooks brought us one such occasion Tuesday.
For the first time since March, her bill LB238 came up for debate, this time on Select File. In her opening, Senator Pansing Brooks stated that although she personally opposes the death penalty, she recognizes the results of the 2016 ballot referendum. The bill, she said, is not about abolishing or even restricting capital punishment, but rather makes an effort to increase transparency during executions. The bill would clarify that those persons already required or allowed by law to witness executions must be afforded "continuous" observation, and that "no one shall authorize any person" to interrupt or block such observation.
Senator Pansing Brooks said that states and other jurisdictions around the nation have made a push for increased secrecy surrounding the administration of the death penalty following a rash of botched executions, a trend her LB238 seeks to buck, "as if the real problem is that people see or know about these botched executions," and not that they happen at all. She made direct reference to a critical 14-minute period of time during Nebraska's execution of Carey Dean Moore on August 14, 2018, in which a curtain was drawn, shielding legally required and allowed observers from witnessing the final moments of the process. Calling execution "our government's most powerful act," Senator Pansing Brooks said this level of secrecy was unacceptable. She added that the American Bar Association has urged federal, state, and territorial government agencies should require the entire execution process to remain uninterrupted and visible to both media and observers.
After passing an amendment by a vote of 36-0 to strip language from the bill requiring at least two state legislators witness each execution, the legislative body advanced the bill to Final Reading by voice vote. We at NADP would like to thank Senator Pansing Brooks personally for introducing this bill, and for shepherding it calmly through a legislative session marked with discord. We look forward to celebrating its passage into law!