Bill to allow public access to lethal injection records on the rocks after state lobbies against it
The legislation would allow the public to know whether pharmacists follow drug manufacturer rules after a state investigation cast doubts on the process.
Tennessee State Capitol (Photo: John Partipilo)
Legislation to allow the public to understand how Tennessee buys lethal injection drugs is floundering as the state correction department lobbies against it behind the scenes.
The legislation — House Bill 870 — would remove an exemption in Tennessee public record law, which allows the state to hide how it procures drugs for lethal injection. The exemption allows the state to protect the names of pharmacists and the manufacturers of the drug cocktail used in implementing capital punishment.
The bill comes on the heels of intense public scrutiny over Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol. Last year, the state halted executions because it failed to appropriately test the execution drugs.
If the compounders are using drugs in violation of the pharmaceutical companies, and they need the state to pass a law to keep it secret, that's wrong. The state doesn't need to be potentially enabling fraud.
– Deborah Fisher, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government
“If the department of corrections has nothing to hide, its new commissioner should allow the public to see these records,” said Deborah Fisher, the executive director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
Lawmakers passed the lethal injection records exemption after several drug manufacturers banned pharmacists from using their drugs to carry out capital punishments.
Fisher said by shielding these records the public can’t know if a pharmacist is following the drugmaker’s rules.
“If the compounders are using drugs in violation of the pharmaceutical companies, and they need the state to pass a law to keep it secret, that’s wrong,” she added. “The state doesn’t need to be potentially enabling fraud.”
Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, are sponsoring the bill. The legislation was taken off notice in a House committee, meaning its chances of passing are slim.
Lawmakers are also debating whether to add firing squads as another form of carrying out the death penalty. The legislation — House Bill 1245 — is moving through the state House but has so far stalled in the Senate. Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, and Sen. Frank Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains, are sponsoring the legislation.
Records law comes after state investigation found several issues with Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol.
Gov. Bill Lee ordered an independent investigation into the state’s execution protocol after halting all executions last year. The state hired former U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton to lead the probe and released it in December.
It found just one pharmacy in Texas was willing to create the execution cocktail, and the Department of Correction relied on one staff member to procure the drugs while providing them little “professional guidance.”
“Tennessee Department of Correction leadership viewed the lethal injection process through a tunnel-vision, result-oriented lens rather than provide TDOC with the necessary guidance and counsel needed to ensure that Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol was thorough, consistent, and followed,” the report stated.
Tennessee law requires lethal injection as the primary method of execution, but those convicted and sentenced before 1999 can choose electrocution.
The Tennessee Department of Correction declined to provided a comment on the bill.
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