- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A legal veil of secrecy could drop over much of the execution process in Mississippi under a bill agreed on by House and Senate negotiators.

Both bodies passed Senate Bill 2237 on Tuesday, sending it to Gov. Phil Bryant for his approval or veto.

The measure says names of prison employees at an execution and in-state providers of lethal drugs must remain secret. The bill also makes secret the names of execution witnesses who are members of a victim’s or condemned inmate’s family. However, negotiators removed a provision barring anyone, including news reporters, from discussing those names or allowing civil lawsuits over disclosures of secrets. The Mississippi Press Association and others had opposed earlier versions of the bill as an unconstitutional restraint.

House and Senate negotiators also stripped out a provision proposed by the House that would have allowed the state to execute prisoners using a firing squad.

Mississippi is one of a number of states that has passed such secrecy bills, as death penalty opponents have sought to stymie lethal injections by exposing drug-makers and pharmacies that supply drugs.

The Mississippi Supreme Court heard arguments in November, but hasn’t ruled, on a lawsuit that seeks to compel the Mississippi Department of Corrections to disclose information about its execution procedure and the supplier of execution drugs. A lower court judge ruled for disclosure in March, but the information has remained secret during appeals.

Attorney General Jim Hood has said prison employees have refused to work on the execution team because of fears about retaliation. He’s also said pharmacies should be free from “strong-arm tactics” by death penalty opponents.

Jim Craig, a lawyer for two death row inmates who filed the lawsuit, disputes claims that any person or business has been threatened. The state has introduced no specific evidence of threats in court.

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Online: Senate Bill 2237: https://bit.ly/1Sjl1OM

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ALSO AT THE CAPITOL

- Lawmakers won’t rewrite Mississippi’s K-12 school funding formula this year. Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, said House and Senate negotiators couldn’t reach agreement on possible changes. School districts wanted to base the formula on average enrollment, instead of average attendance, which would have increased funding called for by the more than $2 billion Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Many Republicans wanted to change it to hold down school administrative spending. Lawmakers fell $170 million short of the amount sought by the formula for next year’s budget and have fully funded it only twice since 1997.

- Also dead is Senate Bill 2306, which would have reinforced that local law enforcement officials must follow federal immigration laws. The bill would have required officers to alert federal agencies when they think someone convicted of violating state or local laws is in the country illegally. It would have authorized them to make arrests if they have probable cause and transfer detainees to federal custody. Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, said the bill was meant to prevent any city in Mississippi from protecting people who may be in the country illegally from federal agencies.

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