By Jo Ingles
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Ohio lawmakers gave final approval on Wednesday to legislation allowing prison officials to keep confidential the names of pharmacies that prepare drugs used for lethal injections, in a step toward resuming executions in the state.
The bill cleared the lower house of the Ohio legislature on a 58-22 vote. The state Senate had passed it last week and returned it to the lower house, where it originated, for adoption of Senate amendments.
Ohio and other states with the death penalty are seeking new drug formulations to administer in executions after some pharmaceutical makers stopped supplying their products because they no longer wanted to be associated with capital punishment.
Improvisation with alternative drug combinations has led to unusually drawn-out executions in some instances, reviving debate over the death penalty and in Ohio leading to a court suspension of executions.
The Ohio corrections department has insisted it needs enactment of the confidentiality measure to continue executions. Lawyers for death row inmates say secrecy surrounding lethal injections could result in botched executions, causing cruel and unusual suffering that would violate U.S. constitutional protections.
Governor John Kasich is expected to sign the bill, which would provide confidentiality to compounding pharmacies that prepare the lethal formulations, not to manufacturers of the component drugs. It will almost certainly be challenged in court.
"Ohio is unusual because there is a public debate on whether this information should be secret," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "The law is not going to immediately resolve things. There will be questions about the law being constitutional."
Similar laws have been enacted in Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri. Last week a court ordered the Texas prison system to reveal the name of the supplier of drugs used in lethal injections there.
Under the Ohio measure, the names of supplying pharmacies' would be kept confidential for 20 years. The identity of execution team members and consulting physicians would remain secret in perpetuity.
Ohio's last and only execution in 2014 of Dennis McGuire took unusually long after the state used an untested combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone.
After that 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 2015.
(Additional reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Editing by Fiona Ortiz, Steve Gorman and Bill Trott)