Fast-tracked bill would shield execution drug

AP News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2014 6:54 PM
Fast-tracked bill would shield execution drug

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A bill that would shield the names of companies that provide Ohio its execution drugs continued its swift move through the Statehouse on Tuesday as opponents questioned a key defense given for the measure: it's needed to protect such companies from threats or potential harm.

Those opponents got a minor boost when an official with the attorney general's office seemed to suggest he wasn't aware of any such threats.

The exchange came as Rep. Matt Lundy asked Thomas Madden, an assistant attorney general, if companies in Ohio had expressed fear of threats.

"In Ohio, no, because we've never ... well, I cannot speak to that," Madden said.

"Were you going to say, because you've never had a threat?" Lundy asked.

"We're getting into an area that I believe I can't speak to," Madden said.

Lundy, a Democrat from Elyria, said he wanted examples because he believes the reality of such threats may not be real. The state public defender's office and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio also question whether such threats have ever been substantiated.

Ohio would have to have contracted with a company for such threats even to exist, said attorney general spokesman Dan Tierney, who deferred further questions to the state prisons agency.

"Nobody can be threatened if they're not performing the act in question to begin with," Tierney said

Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith declined to comment.

The bill, introduced only last week, is set for a vote Wednesday, with sponsors hinting some compromise is possible.

Rep. Mike Curtin, a Democrat from suburban Columbus, wants the secrecy over a drugmaker to expire eventually. That would be consistent with how records are viewed in the United States, with even the most sensitive information — such as how the hydrogen bomb was developed — eventually becoming public, he said.

"It ought not to be forever," Curtin said.

Bill sponsor Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, said he believes common ground can be found but the length of time needs to be worked on.

Opponents testifying Tuesday all said it's better to keep executions as open as possible.

The bill "highlights a new and troubling aspect of the death penalty, namely a move for execution procedures to become increasingly void of public scrutiny," said Jim Tobin, a lobbyist for the Catholic Conference of Ohio.

The bill also would bar companies from entering into contracts that prohibit states from acquiring drugs for executions, and prevent information about a lethal injection drugmaker or distributor from being disclosed in court.

Opponents question whether such mandates are legal or constitutional.

The state's next scheduled execution is Feb. 11, when Ronald Phillips is set to die for the 1993 killing of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

That puts the state's deadline for obtaining its first choice — compounded or specially mixed pentobarbital — by early next year.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.