House OKs bill to keep lethal injection drug source secret

By Keith Ridler

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The House on Thursday approved legislation that would bar Idaho officials from releasing where they obtain the drugs used in lethal injection executions.

The House voted 38-30 to send the measure to the Senate.

The Idaho Department of Correction has long tried to keep details about where and how it obtains lethal injection drugs secret, but the bill from Caldwell Republican Rep. Greg Chaney would make that secrecy part of state law.

Chaney said the legislation is needed because death penalty critics use the information to publicly shame companies that provide the drugs. He said some drug suppliers have refused to sell to Idaho without a promise of anonymity.

Chaney said courts have upheld Idaho’s death penalty, but “a new strategy has emerged in fighting the death penalty, and that is to name and shame the providers and the participants in that process.”

He said not keeping such information secret would essentially end the death penalty in Idaho. He said the proposed law allows disclosing the qualifications of those involved in carrying out executions, but not their identity.

He said the Idaho Constitution allows lethal injection, the current method, and a firing squad as appropriate means of execution.

“Firing squad, in theory, could be brought back, but our current protocols are the result of years and years of litigation on both state and federal questions, and we are in a place where our procedures are absolutely defensible,” he said.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said 27 states, the federal government and the U.S. military authorize capital punishment. The group on its website says that 22 states have expanded confidentiality laws to make secret some aspects of executions. That includes sources of drugs and identities of participants.

“Increasing difficulty in sourcing execution drugs has led states to enact or expand confidentiality laws specific to capital punishment,” the group says on its website.

Democratic Rep. Colin Nash argued against the bill.

“The government shouldn’t have the right to kill people using secret means, methods, practices and chemicals,” he said. “To do that in a constitutional manner, I just don’t trust them to do that.”

The suitability and origin of lethal injection drugs are frequently called into legal question when states are planning executions. Ineffective drugs can lead to botched executions, violating the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Idaho’s prison officials have long said they fear they won’t be able to obtain drugs for future executions if their suppliers believe they could be exposed. Major pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell medications to states if they think they will be used for executions, forcing some states to look for more novel sources, including compounding pharmacies and drugs from other countries such as India.

In 2020, the Idaho Supreme Court ordered the state Department of Correction to turn over information about where officials obtained lethal injection drugs used in recent executions in response to a public records lawsuit. In that case, the state had to release the identity of a drug supplier who was no longer in the business of supplying the drugs.

From the Associated Press

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