Lawmakers Advance Bill Protecting Execution Drug Suppliers

Monday, 01 April 2024 16:15

Lawmakers Advance Bill Protecting Execution Drug Suppliers Featured

Written by Keaton Ross, OklahomaWatch
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A bill that aims to shield those involved in carrying out Oklahoma’s death penalty from public scrutiny is one step closer to becoming law.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced Senate Bill 1702 on March 27, making it eligible to be heard on the House floor. The proposal specifies that the confidentiality of death penalty records should be broadly construed so as not to unintentionally reveal the identity of an individual or business involved in carrying out the death penalty.

State law already offers several exemptions for death penalty records. For more context on the issue, check out my article on the issue from March 2022.

Presenting the bill on the Senate floor on March 11, lead sponsor Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, said the measure is necessary because third-party groups are going on so-called fishing expeditions to try to pinpoint businesses and individuals who supply lethal injection drugs or aid in carrying out the procedure. She also referenced a legal battle in Nebraska where records revealed a pharmacy in suburban Omaha was the state’s lethal injection supplier.

“We’re doing this out of an abundance of caution because we don’t want to be undermined in whether we want to proceed with the death penalty, and if we do so, what procedure we want to use,” Daniels said.

Democratic Senators Michael Brooks and Carri Hicks debated against the measure, referencing past issues with the state using incorrect lethal injection drugs. It advanced mostly on party lines, with Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat casting the sole Republican no vote.

House Sponsor Rande Worthen, R-Lawton, presented the measure before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, arguing the measure was necessary to protect corrections employees, medical personnel and third-party suppliers involved in the process from harassment. The bill advanced on party lines, with Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City casting the only no vote.

The bill comes as several states weigh implementing nitrogen asphyxiation as an execution method. Alabama, on January 25, became the first state in the U.S. to use the method, fitting prisoner Kenneth Smith with a mask to inhale pure nitrogen until he became unconscious and died. While the state described the death as quick and painless, media witnesses described Smith shaking and writhing on the gurney for about two minutes.

Oklahoma authorized nitrogen gas executions in 2015, but the state was unable to find a supplier. The Department of Corrections resumed executions by lethal injection in October 2021 under an updated protocol.

The state’s next execution is set for Thursday, April 4, with prisoner Michael DeWayne Smith scheduled to be put to death at 10 a.m.

 

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

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