MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Makers and suppliers of Alabama's execution drugs would be kept secret and not released to the public or the courts under a bill approved Thursday in the Alabama House of Representatives.
House members voted 77-19 for the bill being sought by the Alabama Department of Corrections. It now moves to the Alabama Senate.
Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said companies are becoming hesitant to supply the drugs because of the threat of lawsuits and backlash from death penalty opponents.
"We're having a terrible time getting the drug. The Department of Corrections can't get the drugs. It's just simple," Greer said.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said about seven states have adopted similar laws, which he said are being challenged in court.
Supporters of the Alabama bill said the state should protect people playing a role in court-ordered executions from the threat of lawsuits and retaliation. Opponents argued the details of the state-sanctioned taking of a life should not be kept secret.
"I think any contractor in the state of Alabama should be open record," said Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard.
"People can create this drug and sell it to the people of Alabama in our prisons. That drug's intent is to kill someone. Then they don't want anyone to know who they are, but they want to profit from selling the drug," Bracy said.
The identities of the drug companies would not be subject to disclosure in a lawsuit or admissible as evidence, according to the legislation. The bill would also keep secret the names of people who perform any ancillary function related to an execution.
"I would not want my name and my address let out. No matter what method we use, I think we owe them some form of confidentiality," Greer said.
The bill would also hide more than the manufacturers' names. The legislation would make all policies and procedures related to lethal injection exempt from state open records law.
Felicia Mason, executive director of the Alabama Press Association, said the organization opposed that provision.
Mason said they had asked for public records exemption to be removed from the bill, and thought they had an agreement to do so. The press group did not oppose keeping the manufacturers' names confidential as long as all other information was open to the public, Mason said.
Alabama in 2002 switched from the electric chair to lethal injection as its primary form of execution.
Asked about the state's current lethal injection drug process, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections said the execution drug cocktail has not changed since it was disclosed in a court case.
The court filing said the Department of Corrections announced in 2011 that it was changing the first drug in its three-drug protocol from sodium thiopental to pentobarbital. The other injections are pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride.
The state has been reluctant to discuss procurement of lethal injection drugs.
Dieter said many states have laws to protect the identities of corrections officers who carry out an execution. The new laws try to extend the secrecy to the source of drugs.
Dieter said that raises a couple of issues including the public's right to know about state work and how state tax dollars are being used. The other, he said, is the inmate's right to "know what you are going to be injected with and how you are going to be treated."
Georgia's secrecy law is currently before the Georgia Supreme Court.
Birmingham lawyer Richard Jaffe, who has handled multiple capital cases, said the background of the drug production and manufacturer is important to know in challenges over the execution method.
"I just don't understand the need for secrecy and question whether it is constitutional. I believe it will lead to more expensive and protracted litigation," Jaffe said.