- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas House members endorsed a bill Thursday allowing different drugs to be used in lethal injections, in a measure aimed at helping restart executions in the state that an attorney for some death row inmates warned would lead to more litigation.

Lawmakers advanced the bill to the Senate on a 73-3 vote. It would allow the Department of Correction to either use a barbiturate or a combination of three drugs for executions. The agency also would be barred from releasing who makes or supplies the drugs.

Its sponsor, Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, said he hopes the bill will help restart executions, which have been tied up in the courts since Eric Nance was put to death in 2005 for killing and attempting to rape a Malvern teenager.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled last week that the state’s 2013 lethal injection law is constitutional - which allows for the use of a single barbiturate in executions. The proposal would allow the corrections department to use the sedative midazolam, followed by a paralytic and a drug to stop the heart.

The legality of the three-drug method is pending in a U.S. Supreme Court case. Justices in January put Oklahoma’s executions on hold after inmates argued the midazolam might not sufficiently mask pain. The case will be argued before the court in April and decided by late June.

Jeff Rosenzweig, a Little Rock attorney who represents 4 of the 33 inmates on death row, said the bill would contradict an agreement he made with the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office in 2013. According to the contract provided by the office, the state agreed to disclose to attorneys what drugs have been obtained and where they came from within 10 days of the corrections department adopting a new lethal-injection protocol.

“Can the Legislature cancel a contract that has been made between the state and private parties as part of litigation?” asked Rosenzweig.

Rosenzweig said if the bill becomes law he would be forced to sue the state. He also said a secret mix of drugs could create botched executions, such as what happened in Oklahoma.

A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who took office in January, said she worked with the House to craft the bill and doesn’t feel it puts the state at risk.

“The Attorney General’s Office does not believe that this agreement signed in 2013 prevents the General Assembly from amending the law,” wrote Judd Deere in an email. “Attorney General Rutledge will continue to defend any legal challenges filed regarding Arkansas’s lethal-injection law.”

The only opposition to the bill came from three Democrats - Fredrick Love of Little Rock, Stephen Magie of Conway and Marshal Wright of Forrest City.

Love said he didn’t understand why there was so little opposition to the bill but that it’s a simple issue for himself.

“I don’t believe in the death penalty, so anything dealing with the death penalty I will oppose,” Love said.


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