- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A bill that would keep secret the names of companies that sell execution drugs to South Carolina died Thursday in a Senate committee, but the idea remains alive in the Legislature.

The Senate Corrections and Penology Committee voted 7-7 on the bill Thursday, preventing it from passing.

Voting against it were Democrats who thought condemned inmates should know who makes the drugs that are supposed to kill them and conservatives who thought the state should wait for legal challenges elsewhere to be resolved first.

State prison officials favor the bill because they said South Carolina has run out of one of its three lethal injection drugs, the anesthetic pentobarbital, and negotiations with pharmaceutical companies are going nowhere.

“The conversation usually stops when we tell them we are a Department of Corrections and why we want the drugs,” Corrections Department Director Bryan Stirling said.

The committee’s vote doesn’t kill the idea. Sen. Mike Fair is trying to get a similar proposal passed as part of the budget, and a companion bill has been introduced in the House.

The legislation was patterned after laws enacted in other states that have run into problems obtaining execution drugs. But some of those laws have been challenged in court. Also, next month the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case from Oklahoma about whether the three drugs it uses to kill inmates violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, joined Democrats in voting against the bill. He was worried in part about hiding the companies that sell drugs used in a public execution, but also wanted to see how the court cases shake out.

Speaking against the bill Thursday was a defense attorney organization that said the best way to make sure companies sell the best quality execution drugs is to keep the process public. The state’s Death Penalty Resource and Defense Center urged lawmakers to take their time and see what happens in courts, while a Catholic organization likened the ever-changing mixture of drugs other states are using to execute inmates to human experiments.

The panel approved an amendment by Sen. Karl Allen allowing companies that sold bad execution drugs to South Carolina to be held responsible. The Democrat from Greenville then voted against the bill, saying the constitutional rights of all inmates must be protected.

“At least they get the dignity of the Eighth Amendment,” Allen said.

Fair, who is pushing the bill, said if the state has always kept secret the names of the doctors and nurses involved in execution, why shouldn’t that confidentiality extend to who provides the drugs.

“There is no intent to hide anything from the person being executed or the defense team,” said Fair, R-Greenville. “All that could be given to them confidentially.”

South Carolina has executed 43 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, but just one inmate since May 2009.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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