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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Idaho governor signs bill boosting secrecy of execution drugs

The new law has drawn criticism from both sides of the political aisle, with opponents of the bill saying state officials should be upping transparency around executions rather than trying to shroud them in mystery.

BOISE, Idaho (CN) — Idaho Governor Brad Little has signed a bill that drastically boosts the veil of secrecy over drugs used for executions in the state.

Under the new law, Idaho officials cannot share where and how they acquired drugs used in lethal injection executions. Officials will be banned from disclosing the origins of the drugs even if ordered to do so by a judge.

The bill sparked criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the Gem State, although it passed the Senate 21-14 and the House 38-30.

GOP state Senator Todd Lakey, who sponsored the bill, said advocates against the death penalty have used a series of “organized aggressive social justice campaigns” to influence the suppliers of lethal injection drugs as a way to put a stop to executions in the state. He says this bill will help fix that.

“We need this bill to maintain the death penalty in Idaho,” Lakey said. “Frankly, their social justice war has been effective.”

But opponents of the bill — even within Lakey’s party — say when it comes to the death penalty, lawmakers should be behind efforts to increase transparency, not curtail it.

State Senator Christy Zito, also a Republican, noted data on past lethal injections show there is at least a 7% chance an execution could go sideways. She said lawmakers will have to own up to those failures moving forward.

“Each and every one of us here today will have responsibility for that result. Would you sit by the condemned and inject a substance into their bodies, not knowing what it was?" Zito said. "Today, we decide what level of transparency and accountability that we want to live with."

Lakey has fended off these criticisms by saying the drugs will still be properly tested prior to being used in an execution and remarked the Idaho Department of Corrections takes death penalty proceedings seriously. He also noted other states have passed similar laws in recent decades.

Georgia famously passed the Lethal Injection Secrecy Act nearly 10 years ago that added a series of new protections on lethal injection drugs, making the names of those who prescribe the drugs and the companies that manufacture them state secrets. The names of prison staff who carry out the executions were made state secrets as well.

Perhaps foreshadowing the likely legal battle Idaho's new law will face, the Georgia law saw swift push-back thought the courts when Warren Hill, who was sentenced to the death penalty after killing his cellmate in prison — Hill was already in prison for killing his girlfriend in 1985 — said the law prevented him from knowing if he would be executed with drugs that were properly manufactured and formulated. While initially successful in delaying his execution, the Georgia Supreme Court eventually upheld the law and Hill was executed in 2015.  

This month, the Florida Legislature passed a similar bill that shields the identities of those involved in virtually every step of the execution process.

While Idaho has the death penalty on its books, it does not use it frequently. Since 1864, Idaho has executed 29 people. Capital punishment was briefly halted in the mid-1900s, but since it was reaffirmed in 1976 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia, just three people have been executed in Idaho, the last time in 2012.

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