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Published Friday, December 25, 1998
Johanns: Don't Alter I-80 Limits

Lincoln - Gov.-elect Mike Johanns said he believes that better enforcement of the current 75 mph speed limit on the Interstate is a better solution to rising traffic fatalities than reducing the speed limit to 65 mph.

"My off-the-cuff reaction is that a bigger issue is to get the personnel out there and do the enforcement," Johanns said Thursday, a day after the state recorded fatality No. 302, equaling last year's number and virtually guaranteeing that fatalities will be up this year for the third straight year.

Johanns also commented on other news developments that happened during his six-day trip to Germany. He said he won't vote to hold a Pardons Board hearing for death-row inmate Randolph Reeves and said he agrees with the decision to deny a license for a low-level radioactive waste warehouse in Boyd County.

Though Johanns said he had not talked with State Sen. Curt Bromm of Wahoo, who plans to propose reducing the Interstate speed limit between Lincoln and Omaha, the governor-elect said his initial reaction is not to support that move.

People going above the speed limit are the problem, Johanns said.

"What tends to happen when the speed limit is set at 75 is that people push it. They're driving at 80 or 85," he said. "The way to curb that is through enforcement."

On the Reeves issue, Johanns said he can see no reason for holding a Pardons Board hearing if one is requested. Such a hearing is one of the only chances Reeves has to escape the electric chair Jan. 14. If a hearing is called, the three-member board could vote to stop the execution.

Relatives of Reeves' victims have been calling for the board to halt the execution.

"I can see none of those unusual conditions" that would be a reason for a hearing, Johanns said.

Reeves, convicted of stabbing to death two women at a Friends Quaker Meeting House in Lincoln in 1980, is scheduled for execution seven days after Johanns takes office.

Reeves' attorneys have said they will request a hearing before the Pardons Board, which is made up of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.

The Pardons Board should not be reviewing cases as courts do during an appeal process, but exercising its power only in the most unusual cases, Johanns said.

An example of an unusual circumstance where the Pardons Board might want to act, he said, was a recent case in Texas, where it was discovered that a man who had killed a number of people had not committed the specific slaying that led to the death sentence.

Johanns also said that he would not base his decision on the feelings of relatives of victims. These cases are bigger than family sentiments, he said.

"I'm not unmindful of the wishes of the family, but they will not be the determining factor," he said. "We are representing the people of Nebraska."

On the low-level waste issue, Johanns said he agrees with the recent decision by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to deny a license for the project.

"There is nothing about that decision that I take issue with," the governor-elect said. "It appears to me they were right. Their concern was with the water table. There is water everywhere surrounding that site."

Johanns also echoed recent comments by Gov. Ben Nelson that now is a good time to re-examine the low-level waste issue.

"This is a great opportunity for us to step back and consider all of our options before we start pouring more and more millions of dollars into this," Johanns said. "The federal system (with its regional compacts) hasn't worked, and that is not unique to Nebraska."

After he is sworn in, Johanns said, he intends to examine all possibilities, including whether the state should stay in the five-state compact that voted to make Nebraska the host state.


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