Ark. Senate approves expanding execution drug secrecy
Despite complaints, the Senate voted to expand the secrecy surrounding the state's lethal injection drug supply
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Senate voted Monday to expand the secrecy surrounding the state's lethal injection drug supply, despite complaints that the proposal will give officials broad powers to withhold information about the execution process.
The Senate voted 25-9 for the bill that prohibits the state from releasing information that would directly or indirectly identify the supplier and manufacturer of its execution drugs. Arkansas doesn't have any executions scheduled, and the state's supply of lethal injection drugs has expired. Prison officials have said they're not seeking any more drugs until the law is expanded to keep the drugmakers' identities secret.
The measure also makes it a felony to recklessly disclose the details about the drug's supplier or manufacturer, a move supporters said was needed to ensure the drugs' source remains confidential.
"We want to make it so if someone is intent, there's a severe consequence," Republican Sen. Bart Hester, the bills' sponsor, said on the floor.
The measure is in response to state Supreme Court rulings in late 2017 and last year that the state must release the package insert and labels for its execution drugs. Justices said the 2015 law did not specifically prevent the drugmakers from being identified. The bill now heads to the House.
Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge worked on the legislation, and GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he supports the measure. The proposal is opposed by the Arkansas Press Association and is among several limits on the state's public records law that are being considered.
The proposal advanced nearly two years after Arkansas put four inmates to death over an eight-day period under a plan that had originally called for executing eight inmates before the state's supply of midazolam expired.
The bill passed on a party-line vote with all nine Democrats voting against the measure. Opponents of the bill said the state shouldn't be afraid of disclosing details about its execution drugs.
"It doesn't make sense. We should go with transparency," Democratic Sen. Linda Chesterfield said. "If you want to do it, you ought to not be ashamed of what you're doing."
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