Ohio House approves bill to shield execution drug suppliers

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 20, 2014 5:53 PM

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Ohio lawmakers advanced a measure on Thursday that would shield the names of pharmacies that supply drugs used in lethal injections for 20 years and allow the state to resume executing condemned inmates in 2015.

Ohio representatives voted 62 to 27 to advance the bill, the House clerk's office said. The bill next goes to the Senate. It must be approved before lawmakers adjourn in December for the state to resume executions early next year as planned.

Ohio and other states that have the death penalty have been forced increasingly to look for alternate drugs and sources of drugs after objections from pharmaceutical manufacturers that do not want their products associated with executions.

The measure would exempt previously public information from mandatory disclosure under state public records laws, shielding the identities of people who assist in carrying out executions and protecting physicians from state medical board discipline.

The bill also would permit civil prosecution of people who disclose the identities of companies that supply drugs for or the professionals involved in executions.

Ohio ran out of the drug it previously used for lethal injections, pentobarbital, in 2013 and turned to an untested combination of the sedative midazolam and pain killer hydromorphone, to execute a convicted killer in January 2014.

Witnesses said Dennis McGuire took longer than usual to die and appeared to convulse and struggle for breath, prompting Ohio to put off scheduled executions and give the state prison department time to review the execution.

U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost in May ordered a halt to executions in Ohio to give attorneys for condemned inmates time to prepare challenges to the state's new plans for lethal injections. He later extended that stay to mid-January.

Ohio officials have said the state cannot go ahead with executions without addressing how it obtains the drugs it uses, which are likely available only through compounding pharmacies.

Mike Brickner, senior policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, has said the proposal would block even the most basic discovery request or deposition of people with knowledge about an execution, preventing an adequate assessment of the state's performance.

Ohio is next scheduled to execute an inmate in February. The inmate, Ronald Phillips, was convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

(Editing by David Bailey and Eric Walsh)