Lethal injection secrecy bill wins approval

The Legislature Tuesday approved keeping secret the identities of the companies that provide drugs for executions even as the Department of Corrections is preparing to destroy its stockpile of 13 vials because it expires this month.

Such information as the expiration date — which was obtained in an open records request by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — could be withheld from the public if Gov. Nathan Deal signs House Bill 122. The proposed law, which Corrections officials sought, would make the identities of those who make and supply the lethal injection drug a “state secret,” which means Georgia would have the discretion to hide the information.

The proposed law also makes a state secret the names of prison staff who carry out executions. For decades, the Georgia has kept the names of security staff secret. It would now shield the names of private doctors the prison system hires to carry out executions.

The legislation should make it easier for Georgia to obtain lethal-injection drugs as companies worldwide, in the face of strong criticism from opponents of capital punishment, have either stopped making lethal injection drugs or forbidden such drugs from being used for executions. Just two years ago, it was disclosed that the state Department of Corrections had resorted to obtaining its supply of one drug used in the lethal-injection process from Dream Pharma, a company that operated in the back of a storefront driving school in London.

The legislation is also expected to make it more difficult for lawyers representing death-row inmates to challenge the state’s lethal-injection process.

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Richard Dieter, executive of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, which opposes capital punishment, said states are running out of options because of the politics of the death penalty.

“Doing things in secrecy, that’s a slippery slope,” Dieter said.

Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said the legislation that won final passage Tuesday “completely undermines the transparency and accountability of the government’s role in the grievous act of extinguishing human life, a role that should be subject to the most stringent public oversight available in the legal system.”

DOC and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, said the state needed to shield those who participate in executions from being harassed or ostracized in the community. Tanner, a former Department of Corrections board member, said the companies that supply the drugs “are very reluctant to participate in this process because of harassment and threats.”

DOC has had problems with expiring drugs before.

The issue of securing drugs for lethal injections began two years ago when Hospira Inc. said it would no longer make sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs Georgia and other states used at the time. Lawmakers in Italy, home of the company’s new factory, were demanding assurances that the sodium thiopental Hospira made would not be used in executions.

Lundbeck Inc., which makes pentobarbital that replaced sodium thiopental, is based in Denmark, another country where anti-death penalty sentiments are strong. Lundbeck will allow the distribution of the barbiturate only if it will not be used in an execution.

A spokeswoman for state Attorney General Sam Olens, a strong advocate for open government, declined to comment because the governor has not signed the bill and because the office will have to defend the new law if there is a court challenge.

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