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Nebraska death sentences continue despite no execution drugs

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Nebraska death sentences continue despite no execution drugs

OMAHA, Neb. — Three times in the past four years, Nebraska prosecutors have sought death sentences, and each time they have been successful. Within a couple months, two more people convicted of a grisly murder could also be sentenced to death.

But as the state adds to its death row population, the lawyers, judges and prison officials who oversee Nebraska’s system of capital punishment largely ignore the fact that the state has no lethal injection drugs and very likely won’t get any for years, if ever. Those sentenced to death have a better chance of dying of natural causes than being executed.

While the nation remains divided over capital punishment, Nebraska stands out for its peculiar version of the institution: it’s still wedded to the idea of executing prisoners, just not the practical part of doing it. The state is among a handful caught in a law vs. reality netherworld as legislatures and activists wrestle over how the issue will eventually play out.

As the Rev. Stephen Griffith, a leading anti-death penalty activist, put it, “We’re being duplicitous, really. We say Nebraska has a death penalty when, functionally, we don’t.”

Twenty seven states allow capital punishment, but many have struggled in recent years to obtain the drugs used to execute inmates because most manufacturers now refuse to openly supply them. While 12 other states responded to the hesitancy by keeping their suppliers secret, Nebraska’s Supreme Court threw out its secrecy policy after the state used it to execute an inmate in 2018.

Corrections director Scott Frakes told a legislative committee that unless Nebraska is allowed to hide supplier names, the state likely would never be able to obtain the necessary drugs.

“Once we get done with the trial and sentencing, it’s kind of off our shoulders,” said Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, who has sent four men to death row during his 14-year tenure, none of whom have been executed. “Certainly, it seems to be the case right now that the state doesn’t have the wherewithal to carry it out.”

The stand-off over execution drugs reflects a longstanding ambivalence toward capital punishment in Nebraska. Even before the drug issue, the state didn’t carry many executions, and legislators in 2015 voted to abolish the death penalty, in part because it costs the state an estimated $15 million annually to prosecute and offer special housing to death row inmates.

But after Gov. Pete Ricketts helped pay for a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot, voters overwhelmingly reinstated the death penalty.

Matt Maly, a conservative activist who opposes capital punishment on moral and fiscal grounds, said many Nebraskans still support capital punishment, but they’re not especially passionate about the issue. Given that, politicians are willing to keep it on the books but not actually carry out executions.

“It’s not something you’re hearing about in coffee shops or grocery stores,” Maly said. “The legislature could have said, ‘Let’s do what it takes to make this happen,’ but they don’t have the will to do that.”

Still, the end of executions doesn’t mean an end to the death penalty process. Prosecutors keep seeking death sentences, and judges have condemned three more inmates since the capital punishment reinstatement vote in 2016. Nebraska’s death row now has 11 inmates after one died in early April of natural causes.

Nationally, executions have resumed after the struggle over drug supplies but are nearing record lows, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that tracks executions. Seventeen inmates were put to death in 2020, down from a high of 98 in 1999.

Texas and Georgia, both leading death penalty states, now have periodic executions. Tennessee has executed seven inmates in the last three years, including one in 2020. Several states are still working through legal challenges, including Oklahoma, which suspended executions after injection problems in two cases. A few states have given up, like Virginia, which dropped capital punishment in March.

Robert Dunham, the Death Penalty Information Center’s executive director, said many states seem to show “inertia” with the death penalty.

“If you have a jurisdiction in which death sentences haven’t been imposed, people either forget how to do it or they sort of realize they don’t miss it and they don’t tend to push for it,” he said. “But once they do it and it becomes a part of the culture, they tend to do it again and again and again.”

All of Nebraska’s current death-row inmates were convicted of either murdering multiple people or a child, and each case includes aggravating factors such as sexual assaults, cover-ups of other crimes or dismembering bodies.

Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner said that if drugs are a problem, lawmakers should consider other execution methods, such as firing squads.

“There are some crimes that are so heinous, so evil, that they deserve the death penalty,” Wagner said.

Kleine, the Douglas County attorney, said he’ll continue to pursue death sentences out of respect for the voters who chose to keep capital punishment.

“It’s not an easy decision to seek the death penalty, but right now it’s a law on the books, and if we feel the circumstances are appropriate, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.

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Can someone have a word with my co-worker about her plunging necklines?

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Can someone have a word with my co-worker about her plunging necklines?

My co-worker has a Jayne Mansfield figure and continually wears plunging necklines, resulting in stares from staff. Can human resources legally advise her to dress more appropriately?

The answer is generally yes. HR can legally have a conversation with an employee about their manner of dress, provided someone isn’t being singled out because of gender, race or religious observance. However, one needs to tread very carefully because unless there is a specific dress code, this conversation is fraught with negative outcomes. Since this is an observation of a coworker and you aren’t this person’s boss, do you really want to engage in this matter or refer it to HR? Do you have the kind of relationship where you can speak to them privately about how their manner of dress is impacting other colleagues? You’d better be damn close colleagues in order to have that conversation, though, otherwise, this is best left to the boss and HR.

I work on a contract basis and there are times when I’m working overtime, but the company will not approve my time sheet past 40 hours. My agency said I should put in for the OT, but I don’t want to rock the boat. Is this legal? Full disclosure: The department I work in is HR so it would be ironic if they are bending the rules.

Well, the fact that you work in the HR department gives me some confidence that they are following the rules, although it’s not like HR hasn’t failed to protect employee rights now and then. A person’s eligibility for OT depends on the work they are doing, whether they are paid a flat fee, or if they are OT eligible, meaning the company approves the extra hours before they are worked. If you are eligible then by law they have to pay you for those hours. You can and should ask for clarification of your situation. If you are eligible and they won’t authorize the extra pay then you shouldn’t work the extra hours. Keep a detailed log of your hours and who was aware that you worked them. If this is a temporary job, you can also consider raising the issue at the end of the assignment. If they don’t comply with back pay, you will have the facts and law on your side.

Gregory Giangrande has over 25 years of experience as a chief human resources executive and is dedicated to helping New Yorkers get back to work. E-mail your questions to [email protected] Follow Greg on Twitter: @greggiangrande and at GoToGreg.com

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Woolly mammoth tusk found during roadwork in Oregon

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Woolly mammoth tusk found during roadwork in Oregon

It was a mammoth discovery!

Crews rerouting a gas line in the city of Corvallis, Ore., uncovered the 12,000-year-old tusk of a woolly mammoth beneath the roadway.

“Whenever doing this type of work, our crews are very careful to keep any eye out for any type of materials they may find while working that could be fragile or historic,” a spokeswoman for NW Natural, the gas company doing the work, told the Corvallis Gazette-Times. “As is our protocol, we stopped work immediately.”

The excavation work was being done for the city government, part of a project on water lines and storm drains in the area. The company contacted Corvallis officials, who brought in Oregon State University’s Loren Davis, an anthropology professor who researches archaeological sites from western North America that date from the Pleistocene era, more than 12,000 years ago.

Davis said that the mammoth, which co-existed with early humans, probably was buried in the great Missoula floods of the Pleistocene era. The tusk is about 6 feet below ground level, and extends into the construction trench wall, meaning more of the animal’s body might be hidden underground.

The exact reason it ended up there is “a bit of a mystery,” Davis said. “The world was changing structure to a post-glacial one. People also were present. There might have been environmental factors as well as hunting pressure. It could be lots of things.”

Early humans not only hunted mammoths for food, but used their bones and tusks to make tools, dwellings and art.

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McDonald’s worker rage-quits with sign at drive-thru

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McDonald's worker rage-quits with sign at drive-thru

McDonald’s may want to reconsider its “I’m lovin’ it” slogan.

A Louisville, Kentucky, employee apparently despised working at the fast-food chain so much that they hung up a sign on the drive-thru speaker that read: “We are closed because I am quitting and I hate this job.”

After Twitter user Great Ape Dad snapped and posted a picture of the straight-to-the-point sign on Monday morning, it quickly went viral. He later elaborated that the sign supposedly was put up by a night shift manager who had “suddenly quit” the previous night.

Great Ape Dad told Today that he was on his way to pick up the new BTS meal for his wife when he saw the note. “I took a picture, uploaded it to Twitter, not thinking much of anything about it,” he said. “And much to my surprise, it’s had quite a success.” Apparently, none of the employees had seen the sign until he pointed it out.

“I used to work in the service industry myself,” he said. “I think that people are just frustrated, especially the working-class people who are there in the front line … things that are in a boiling point where I can definitely see where someone on a Saturday night that doesn’t want to be working the drive-thru — wants to just call it quits.”

This isn’t an isolated incident. Minimum wage workers have been rage-quitting their low-level jobs in mass quantities as businesses begin to open up again in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Combined with a need for new hires and a push for working wages, companies have begun to take action. 

McDonald’s reported in May that it plans to raise employee wages by 10% in the next few months. Based on location, all entry-level employees can look forward to making anywhere $11 to $17 per hour, and all shift managers will make $15 to $20 an hour.
According to a National Federation of Independent Business survey, 40% of small businesses have job openings that have yet to be filled, while a poll found that 39% of workers would consider quitting if they weren’t offered more flexibility about continuing to work remotely.

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