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Louisiana senators stall lethal injection drug secrecy bill

May 28, 2019

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana state senators Tuesday narrowly scrapped a measure that would have shielded the identity of drug suppliers for executions, appearing to end debate over capital punishment for the legislative session.

Republican Rep. Nicholas Muscarello of Hammond described his House-approved bill , which was backed by Attorney General Jeff Landry, as helping to restart long-stalled lethal injections in the state.

Louisiana held its last execution in 2010. The corrections department has said it can’t get lethal injection drugs because companies don’t want their products publicly associated with capital punishment.

Michelle Ghetti of the attorney general’s office described threats made to pharmacies that she said have discouraged them from supplying execution drugs. She said 18 other states have enacted similar public records exemption laws.

“It does work. It has alleviated the problem and has allowed states to move forward with enforcing their laws,” Ghetti said.

Muscarello’s bill would offer confidentiality to anyone who helps facilitate an execution. The measure would shield information about the person or company that manufactures, supplies, transports, prescribes or compounds drugs, medical supplies or equipment for an execution.

Opponents, including death penalty opponents and the Louisiana Press Association, said that sort of sweeping secrecy risks the state buying lethal injection drugs on the black market or in other inappropriate ways.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat, said if someone mixes a drug incorrectly for an execution or the state buys the drug from Mexico and the execution is botched, the state could be sued and liable for judgments costing millions.

“When you’re dealing with the most harsh punishment which a state can hand out, which is the taking of a life, there ought to be complete transparency and accountability in the process,” said Rob Tasman, executive director for the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, which wants to end capital punishment in the state.

Members of a Senate judiciary committee voted 3-2 against the bill, stalling it. Committee Chairman Gary Smith, a Norco Democrat who didn’t vote, said he didn’t expect the proposal to resurface because the session must end by June 6.

“The bill is dead for the session,” Smith said.

Louisiana lawmakers have debated not only how to restart executions, but whether to have them in the state at all — an issue that has drawn emotional debate this session. The Senate rejected a bid to end Louisiana’s use of capital punishment, and the sponsor of a similar House measure shelved it rather than ask his colleagues to vote on the divisive issue.

Among those supporting Muscarello’s secrecy bill was Wayne Guzzardo, who described the 1995 slaying of his 27-year-old daughter Stephanie during a Baton Rouge restaurant robbery.

“There’s no such thing as closure for us,” Guzzardo said. “All we’re asking for is justice. This has gone on long enough.”

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat, questioned whether the corrections department had done everything possible to confirm that no pharmaceutical company would sell execution drugs to the state. The agency didn’t testify.

Both Gov. John Bel Edwards and his corrections secretary, Jimmy LeBlanc, have said the state has been unable to obtain lethal injection drugs. But the Edwards administration hasn’t pushed for passage of Muscarello’s proposal. The Democratic governor has not explained his personal position on capital punishment.

Voting against Muscarello’s proposal were Morrell, Peterson and Sen. Greg Tarver, a Shreveport Democrat. Voting for the measure were Republican Sens. Ronnie Johns of Lake Charles and Norby Chabert of Houma.

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House Bill 258: www.legis.la.gov

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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