Nebraska lawmakers moved legislation to repeal the state's death penalty one step from final approval on Friday, one day after the governor, a death penalty supporter, said the state was acquiring more drugs to carry out lethal injections.
Nebraska's single-chamber Legislature voted 30-16 to move the bill to a vote on final passage that would send it to the governor. It would substitute life without parole for the death penalty.
The legislation has bipartisan support and backers appear to have the 30 votes needed to overcome a veto from Republican Governor Pete Ricketts.
"I have been waging this battle for more than four decades now, and I will not stop," state Senator Ernie Chambers, sponsor of the measure, said during a debate on Friday. "I will remain against the state killing anybody."
Nebraska has not executed anyone in nearly 18 years and has never used lethal injection.
Ricketts said on Thursday that Nebraska had purchased all three drugs needed to carry out an execution. The state currently possesses one of the drugs and expects delivery of the other two shortly, the governor said.
On Friday, he said the Legislature's vote was out of touch with Nebraska citizens he had talked to about the issue.
"The death penalty in Nebraska remains an appropriate tool in sentencing the most heinous criminals," Ricketts said in a statement.
Death penalty opponents have said that maintaining capital punishment and obtaining drugs would only lead to fresh appeals and protracted legal battles.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska said on Friday it had filed a formal records request with the state corrections department to determine whether the drugs were acquired lawfully.
"Nebraska's past attempts to obtain lethal injection drugs have been legally suspect and full of problems including wasted taxpayer dollars and false promises," Danielle Conrad, ACLU of Nebraska executive director, said in a statement.
Nebraska last executed an inmate in 1997 and none of the state's current death row inmates have exhausted their appeals.
The debate in Nebraska over the death penalty comes as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether Oklahoma's lethal injection method violates the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. A decision in that case is due by the end of June.
(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Will Dunham and Doina Chiacu)