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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada lawmakers on Wednesday approved spending about $860,000 on a new execution chamber at the remote Ely State Prison, the maximum security facility in eastern Nevada where the state's death row inmates are held.
A joint Assembly and Senate budget committee voted to approve the construction project, although several members objected. A subcommittee was split 5-5 earlier this week on the matter.
The state's existing death chamber at the shuttered Nevada State Prison in Carson City is not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
An elevator and new handrails would need to be installed to allow witnesses to watch executions, and state officials have said for about four years that they wouldn't be able to carry out the death penalty there.
"It's the law of the state, right now, that allows for that," Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, a death penalty supporter, told The Associated Press after Wednesday's vote. "The reality of the current chamber is that it is not ADA compliant, it's antiquated, it is the one piece that is preventing the NSP from becoming a museum. And so, we really need to modernize it."
Opponents have pointed out that no executions are scheduled in the next two years, and even if one came up, it would likely get caught up in an ongoing battle over the legality of lethal injection drugs. Sandoval said the state still needs to be ready.
"It may be there are no executions scheduled, but it's going to take a while to build it and to prepare it," he said.
Vanessa Spinazola of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada said moving the execution chamber from Carson City to Ely, which is about four hours from Las Vegas, would mean it's out-of-sight for most Nevadans and more difficult to access.
"If people do want to protest ... it makes it prohibitive for them," she said.
Executions remain rare in Nevada, which has only carried out the death penalty 12 times since 1977. Department of Corrections officials say there are about 80 inmates on Nevada's death row, but the state hasn't executed anyone since 2006.
Nevada lawmakers' decision Wednesday came just minutes before Nebraska lawmakers voted 32 to 15 to end capital punishment. If that vote holds in a veto override, Nebraska would become the first conservative state to repeal the death penalty since North Dakota in 1973.
"I do think it's sad for Nevada that literally at the same time we're voting to spend millions more dollars on the death penalty, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Nebraska voted to abolish the death penalty," Spinazola said. "It's a sad day for criminal justice reform."
Associated Press writer Riley Snyder contributed to this report.