LINCOLN — A curtain could no longer be pulled to obscure parts of a lethal injection execution under a bill advanced Thursday by the State Legislature.

The measure addresses a controversy stirred up during Nebraska's last execution, in 2018, when a curtain was pulled shut for 14 minutes, obscuring witnesses from seeing the final moments of the execution of Carey Dean Moore.

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who sponsored the proposal, said that when a curtain obscures witnesses from seeing an entire execution, there's no way to tell whether an execution was "botched" or carried out appropriately.

"To say, 'We're the government, trust us,' is not transparency," Pansing Brooks said.

Legislative Bill 238 was advanced from first-round debate on a 33-7 vote, but not before senators debated whether the legislation should require two state legislators to witness executions.

Right now, at least two media representatives and up to six people total, including officials from the State Corrections Department, are chosen to witness executions in Nebraska. Some family members and friends of the victim and condemned inmate are also permitted to attend.

A handful of senators, led by Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, questioned whether the language of LB 238 mandated that two lawmakers witness an execution, which they argued would be cruel.

"I don't think this should be our job," said Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen. 

Pansing Brooks said her intent with the clause was to require the Corrections Department to allow two legislative witnesses. She said she's willing to amend the bill's language to make it optional for any state senator to attend, if they wished.

"I don't intend to force people to watch something as hideous as this," said the senator, who opposes capital punishment.

Another death penalty opponent, Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, said that LB 238 was about government transparency, not whether you support or oppose capital punishment.

"The state, if they're going to take a life, needs to do it in a fashion that isn't cruel and unusual, and we don't know that unless the entire procedure is visible," Lathrop said.

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