Senate execution bill keeps drugs, suppliers, process secret

Posted July 27, 2015

The death chamber at Central Prison in Raleigh.

— With little debate, the North Carolina Senate voted along party lines 33-16 Monday night to approve a bill aimed at restarting executions in the state.

The legislation, House Bill 774, would repeal the current law requiring that a physician be present to monitor all executions. Under the proposal, any licensed medical professional could serve in that capacity, although a doctor would still have to sign the death certificate. Doctors' refusal to participate in executions has been one of the main reasons they've been on hold in North Carolina since 2006.

The bill would also remove from public record the names of companies that make, supply or deliver the drugs used in lethal injection, and it would exempt the execution protocol itself from the oversight of the state's Rules Review Commission.

There would be no public oversight of the protocol, nor would that information – from the types of drugs to the doses to the sequence – be required to be made public.

Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, said the legislation is "obviously the subject of big debate and a great moral question." He amended the bill to add a severability clause because, he said, "it's inevitable that there's going to be litigation on this."

Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, tried to amend the bill to restore Rules Review Commission oversight of the execution protocol and to make the names of pharmaceutical companies that supply the drugs public record.

"With this being the most severe and ultimate penalty that we as a state impose, it is very important that it inspire the greatest of public confidence," she argued.

Bryant conceded that the death penalty, which has been found constitutional in North Carolina, is still favored by the majority of voters. But she said the information the bill would make confidential will likely come out in court challenges anyway.

"So, in my mind, why not be as open about it as we can in the strongest public process that we can?" she asked.

Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, agreed. "This is the ending of somebody’s life, and if this body is going to support that, then it is utmost that the public should know what those drugs are, who those manufacturers are."

But Newton argued against the amendment.

"We don't publicize the personnel at (the Department of Public Safety) that are involved in execution. It’s important that manufacturers are allowed to stay confidential so they aren’t litigated to death," he said, adding that putting the procedure back under the rule-making process would "drag it out for one or two years.”

Bryant's amendment failed. There was no debate on the bill itself, which passed both its second and third readings. Senate leaders sent it back to the House by special messenger, so it could get a final vote there as soon as Tuesday.


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