@NCCapitol

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Bill to resume state executions advances

Posted July 23, 2015 2:21 p.m. EDT
Updated July 23, 2015 7:07 p.m. EDT

The death chamber at Central Prison in Raleigh.

— State Senate leaders are moving ahead with a bill aimed at restarting executions in North Carolina.

House Bill 774, titled the “Restoring Proper Justice Act,” would repeal the law requiring a physician to monitor the lethal injection during executions. Instead, any licensed medical professional, including nurse practitioners or EMTs, could monitor the injection.

The bill would also exempt the execution procedure from any oversight by the state’s Rules Review Commission. No other body has authority to oversee the protocol, so it would be left in the hands of the secretary of the Department of Public Safety, who could decide whether or not to make the protocol available to the public.

The version of the bill unveiled in the Senate Judiciary II Committee on Thursday morning would also remove from public record any information on the type, dosage and manufacturer or supplier of the drugs or other supplies used in executions.

House sponsor Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, told the committee the bill would allow executions, which have been on hold in the state since 2007, to resume. As of Thursday, 148 people are on death row in North Carolina.

“This is not an argument about the death penalty. We already have the death penalty,” Daughtry said. “The roadblocks in front of the death penalty have stopped us from using this punishment.”

Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, disagreed.

“You say it’s not about being for or against the death penalty. It’s about expediting the death penalty – that’s for it,” Bryant protested. “They’re on death row. They’re not going to run away. They’re either going to die there or be executed. Expediting it is not a sound public policy over and above a process people can have confidence in.”

“This is not expediting anything,” Daughtry replied. “We have guys that have been on death row for 20 years.”

Bryant tried to amend the bill to put the protocol back under the authority of the Rules Review Commission, but that amendment failed after DPS spokesman Andy Brandon said the agency opposed it.

Bryant also tried to amend the bill to remove the section keeping the supplier of the execution drugs out of public record.

Daughtry called it a "catfish amendment."

“It’s a volatile issue,” he said. “If you tell them where the drug comes from, there’ll be 300 people outside the [manufacturer’s] building. That is not something we want to occur."

Bryant countered by comparing the issue with abortion protests.

“Abortion is a controversial thing, but we don’t try to hide where the clinics are. There could be 300 people out there, and you’d stand on your head for their rights,” she argued. “It’s the American way.”

She said the recent rash of botched executions in other states should be proof that the execution procedure needs careful oversight, including the source and efficacy of the drugs, "to give some comfort that, when we execute people and give them the ultimate sentence, it’s going to be done correctly.”

That amendment was also defeated.

Public commenters included David Weiss, staff attorney for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, an anti-death penalty group in Durham . He said the proposal leaves open the possibility that the state’s method of killing prisoners could be kept a “complete secret.”

“You’ve got no public mechanism for oversight and review,” Weiss warned the committee.

Weiss pointed out that earlier this year, Henry McCollum was granted a pardon of innocence by Governor Pat McCrory after having served three decades on death row. In 2014, DNA proved McCollum had not committed the 1983 murder he was sentenced to die for.

The bill passed on a voice vote and is scheduled for Senate debate Monday night.