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Death penalty measures approved in Okla., Neb.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Major death penalty measures were approved in two states and California looked likely to reaffirm capital punishment in Tuesday’s election, despite ongoing questions nationally over lethal injection drugs

Oklahoma voters decided in favor an amendment that will add the death penalty to Oklahoma’s state constitution, giving lawmakers the power to try out any legal method of execution that isn’t banned by the U.S. Constitution, CBS affiliate KWTV reports

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Supporters of the amendment, known as SQ776, say there is a chance some drugs used in lethal injection, or lethal injection itself, will be ruled unconstitutional, and this would give Oklahoma options so lethal injection can continue to be used.

Opponents said the bill is unnecessary because the death penalty already exists in state law, and it won’t prevent courts from striking down the death penalty by applying federal law.

Former Oklahoma Senator and Chair of the Say No to SQ776 Committee Connie Johnson said the referendum does nothing to remedy the deep and persistent problems with the death penalty in Oklahoma and may cause even more dysfunction. 

“SQ776 was expected to pass with at least 72 percent of the vote, so this result signals a significant shift in attitudes on the death penalty in our state, echoing a trend we are seeing across this country, and indicates just how out of touch the Oklahoma legislature is on this issue,” Johnson said. “The Sooner Poll found that more Oklahomans prefer the alternative of death by incarceration -- true life without the possibility of parole – over capital punishment when given that option.” 

They also said there is no limit on what crimes the Legislature might choose to make subject to the death penalty and the courts would be restricted in their ability to prevent legislative overreach even if it is inadvertent.

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State Representative Mike Ritze, a Republican representing parts of Tulsa and Wagoner Counties, co-sponsored the amendment. He told News On 6 the amendment just cements what Oklahomans want.

“I know since we’ve been a state that Oklahomans are in favor of the death penalty, and they want us to continue to pursue that,” Ritze said.

Ritze is referring to a 2014 poll that showed nearly three-fourths of Oklahomans support the death penalty.

But a more recent News On 6 poll conducted last fall shows most Oklahomans actually favor replacing the death penalty with life in prison sentences. 

The poll shows 52 percent of Oklahomans would prefer the life sentence compared to 34 percent that would rather have executions.

In Nebraska, a repeal of the death penalty had a commanding lead as of early Wednesday, CBS affiliate KOLN/KGLN reports

In this case, a vote for “Repeal” means you want the death penalty. A vote for “Retain” means you want to do away with the death penalty.

The three Catholic Bishops in Nebraska released a quote, stating their disappointment in the results.

Meanwhile in California, a measure to reform the death penalty led over a measure to scrap it completely, CBS Los Angeles reported late Tuesday PST. 

Early returns Tuesday favored Proposition 66, an effort to speed up appeals so condemned murders are put to death rather than replacing capital punishment with life in prison without chance of parole.