LINCOLN — Nebraska would have an alternative to lethal injection when carrying out executions under a bill proposed Thursday in the Nebraska Legislature.
Legislative Bill 970, sponsored by State Sen. Loren Lippincott of Central City and 17 other lawmakers, would permit “nitrogen hypoxia” — suffocation by inhaling nitrogen gas — to be used in capital punishment in the state.
Lippincott said that since capital punishment is the law in Nebraska, “we need to make the execution of Nebraska law as humane as possible.”
“Going to sleep via nitrogen is painless. It’s a very humane way to do it,” he said.
The proposal drew an immediate response, however, from an anti-death penalty group, Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
‘The particular method of the state executing people does not resolve all of the things that are wrong with the death penalty in Nebraska,” said Spike Eickholt, who lobbies for the group. “Providing for gas chamber executions does not fix our broken death penalty.”
Avoid high cost of litigation
NADP advocates for alternatives, such as life in prison without parole, arguing that it will avoid the high cost of death penalty litigation and avoid the possibility of executing an innocent person.
Those concerns helped prompt the Nebraska Legislature, in 2015, to abolish capital punishment, a decision that was reversed a year later at the ballot box by voters in a referendum led by then-Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Lippincott said that the idea for his bill came from a constituent and that Nebraska would join three other states — Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma — in allowing the use of nitrogen gas in executions.
None of those states has used nitrogen hypoxia, but Alabama is planning an execution with its use.
United Nations officials, according to jurist.org, expressed concern Wednesday about the first-time use of the gas in Alabama, saying it would “result in a painful and humiliating death.”
UN officials say U.S. would violate agreement
Those officials added that if the execution proceeds, the United States would likely violate an international agreement against the use of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which it is a party.
Lippincott said LB 970 won’t be his priority bill.
The proposal comes at a time when Nebraska officials have said they lack the necessary drugs to conduct an execution via lethal injection — the method the State Legislature adopted in 2009.
The inability to acquire lethal injection drugs, blocked by some pharmaceutical companies who maintain their products should be used to heal and not kill, has hampered capital punishment across the nation in recent years.
Only five states carried out executions in 2023, the lowest number of states in 20 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Nebraska last executed someone in 2018: double-murderer Carey Dean Moore. It was Nebraska’s first execution via lethal injection.
Currently, 11 inmates are on death row in Nebraska, but observers have said that none of their cases, and appeals, have advanced to the point where an execution is near.
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