LINCOLN — Supporters of capital punishment moved immediately after Wednesday’s vote to begin exploring how to put the issue of the death penalty before Nebraska voters.
State Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha announced the formation of a group called "Nebraskans for Justice" that will look at gathering signatures for a voter referendum on the repeal law, or a ballot issue to enact a new law permitting capital punishment.
"My phone and email have been jammed the last couple of hours with people who want to help," McCoy said after the vote.
Nebraskans, he said, have already offered to work and donate money to such an effort.
"They want to weigh in on this issue, and I think they’re going to get that opportunity," McCoy said.
The repeal of Nebraska’s death penalty won’t go into effect for 90 days, and supporters of capital punishment have at least two or three options.
One is a referendum petition.
Under the state constitution, if a group can collect signatures of 10 percent of the state’s registered voters within 90 days after the end of a legislative session, implementation of the new law is put on hold.
Voters would then decide the fate of the repeal law in a referendum during the next general election in 2016.
About 115,000 signatures would be required to put the repeal law on hold.
That would compare with the 134,899 signatures gathered over about six weeks last summer during a well-financed, successful effort to raise the minimum wage in Nebraska.
A second option would be to gather signatures to force a referendum in 2016 without suspending the law. That would require fewer signatures: 5 percent of registered voters.
Either referendum option would require the signatures to be collected within 90 days.
Another option, one that would give such a group more time to organize and gather signatures, would be to propose a new state law or constitutional amendment concerning capital punishment.
To get a law change placed on the 2016 general election ballot would require gathering the signatures of 7 percent of registered voters. A proposed constitutional amendment would require more signatures, 10 percent of registered voters. Either way, those signatures would not be due until July 2016.
McCoy said his group will consider its options in the next couple of weeks.
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, the Legislature’s leading proponent of repealing the death penalty, chided McCoy for considering such an effort now.
"Anger, disappointment can lead you to say and do things in a way that is impetuous, unrealistic and unwise," Chambers said. "So that’s what he’s doing now, and it won’t go anywhere."
World-Herald staff writer Joe Duggan contributed to this report.
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