- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - To resume executions, Alabama needs a law that will keep secret the names of lethal injection drug suppliers, a legislator told a Senate committee Wednesday before the panel approved the legislation.

Rep. Lynn Greer, the sponsor of a bill that would make the names of the drug suppliers confidential, said states are having trouble obtaining the drugs because pharmacies fear lawsuits and backlash from death penalty opponents.

“This body has got to make a decision that either we can resume capital punishment by passing this legislation or we can come back next year and repeal this law and go back to the electric chair,” said Greer,R-Rogersville.

Asked by an Associated Press reporter if the word “resume” meant the state had exhausted its lethal injection drug supply, Greer referred questions to the Alabama Department of Corrections.

“I think you are on target though,” Greer said.

The Department of Corrections has declined to comment. The last execution in Alabama occurred on July 25 when Andrew Lackey was put to death. It was the state’s first execution since October 2011.

The House approved the bill earlier this month on a 77-19 vote and it makes the names of drug suppliers off-limits to the public and the courts. The identities of the drug companies would not be subject to disclosure in a lawsuit or admissible as evidence, according to the legislation.

The Senate Health Committee approved the confidentiality bill Wednesday in a 7-0 vote. However, the committee added an amendment that said the names would be confidential unless a judge ordered their release.

Sen. Cam Ward, who offered the amendment, said he supported keeping the names confidential, but had concerns about giving blanket confidentiality to any company.

Greer questioned if pharmacies would be willing to provide the drug if they thought a judge might reveal their name.

The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate floor.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, has said about seven states have adopted similar laws, which are being challenged in court. A shortage of sodium thiopental left states looking for new sources and using new protocols.

Alabama announced in 2011 that it was changing the first drug in its three-drug protocol from sodium thiopental to pentobarbital. The state now uses successive injections of pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Inmates across the country have filed lawsuits seeking more information about the drugs that will be used to execute them and defense lawyers have challenged the new methods as potentially cruel and unusual punishment.

An Ohio inmate took more than 20 minutes to die and appeared to gasp several times in an execution earlier this year. Greer said he wasn’t bothered if it took 20 minutes or more.

“We’ll keep in mind that man had murdered a pregnant woman. He had stabbed her. We don’t know how long she lived. He lived 26 minutes before he went to sleep,” Greer said.

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