- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A bill that aims to help restart executions in Arkansas by shielding where the state gets its drugs for lethal injections cleared a Senate panel Tuesday over objections that such secrecy is bad practice.

The Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs advanced to the full Senate a proposal to allow the Department of Correction to use a combination of three drugs for executions. The state currently allows a one-drug barbiturate injection - a method upheld by the state’s high court earlier this month.

Arkansas could also become one of several states to protect drug suppliers, as the bill also blocks the corrections department from releasing who makes or supplies the drugs. At least four other states prevent the release of information about drug suppliers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sponsor Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, said he hopes the bill will help restart executions. Arkansas has 32 inmates on death row, but hasn’t executed an inmate since 2005 because of legal challenges and a shortage of drugs used in lethal injections.

His proposal would mirror neighboring Oklahoma in allowing 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 that should be decided by late June.

Democrats and defense attorneys questioned the constitutionality of the proposed changes and the need for hiding information about drug suppliers.

“We don’t know if they’re licensed to sell drugs, and we don’t know what their track records are because we don’t know who they are,” said Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock.

House countered that the corrections department would enforce quality controls and that the state could have trouble obtaining the drugs without the privacy provision. He said that Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Gov. Asa Hutchinson support the bill.

A Hutchinson spokesman didn’t immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

Tony Pirani, president of the Arkansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told committee members the secrecy provision in the bill violates a previous contract with the state that guarantees disclosure of the source of the drugs to death row inmates who sued the state. He said a lawsuit against the state has already been drafted in case the bill is enacted

An attorney general spokesman has said that the 2013 agreement shouldn’t prevent the legislature from amending the law.

House said he expects further legal challenges regardless of the outcome.

“Folks are going to file a lawsuit anyway,” House said.


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