Bid to ensure transparency of execution drugs hits roadblock

AP News
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Posted: Feb 02, 2016 5:13 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia lawmaker is joining a chorus of voices across numerous states pushing officials to reveal the source of drugs used in lethal-injection executions.

But Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell's measure appears to have little chance of passing this year: A subcommittee that examined the measure voted 4-1 against it on Tuesday.

Surovell introduced his bill in response to Virginia's use of pentobarbital from Texas to execute convicted serial killer Alfredo Prieto in October.

Unlike Virginia, Texas allows officials not to disclose where they got the drugs, so the identity of the compounding pharmacy that supplied the substance used in Prieto's execution remained under wraps, drawing fierce criticism from defense attorneys and anti-death-penalty activists.

"The Department of Corrections completely circumvented the legislature's will and, from my point of view, used a secret drug to conduct an execution, which I think is highly inappropriate and potentially illegal," Surovell told lawmakers Tuesday.

Surovell's measure would block officials from administering drugs they have received from outside the state if the label doesn't identify the compounding facility that supplied them.

Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, said the department doesn't have a position on the legislation.

Texas is among a number of states that have passed secrecy laws to stabilize their execution drug supplies. Officials say the laws protect companies that fear retaliation for their association with the death penalty.

In Georgia, officials were preparing Tuesday to execute the state's oldest death-row inmate after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowly declined to give a full-court hearing to a challenge to the constitutionality of the state's secrecy law.

Surovell's bill is being backed by the Virginia Catholic Conference and Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Republicans questioned the need for such legislation and said decisions about drug labeling should be left up to the Virginia Board of Pharmacy.

GOP Sen. Tom Garrett, chairman of the subcommittee, said he could support legislation that seeks to ensure that all necessary information is on drug labels, but didn't believe that it is necessary for drugs that are used in executions.

"The difference with lethal injections is that when the drug works right, you don't get better," Garrett said. "If we are going to inject into a human something (whose) designed purpose is to end their life ... I don't care what's in it."

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the subcommittee examined the measure Tuesday, not Monday.

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Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/alanna-durkin.