LINCOLN Neb. (CN) – Nebraska inched closer to executing prisoners, as its governor signed off on a new execution protocol with fewer confidentiality protections for manufacturers of lethal injection drugs.
“Finalizing the protocol will help carry out the will of the people of Nebraska in regards to the death penalty,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement about the Jan. 26 Execution Protocol.
Ricketts signed the protocol and delivered it to Secretary of State John Gale to file and make it official. Both are Republicans.
Ricketts’ approval came four weeks after a public hearing in Lincoln to take comments. Twenty people spoke, all but two of them with misgivings, particularly about measures to keep the identity of drug suppliers secret.
Whether due to public pressure or legitimate legal concerns, the updated protocol removed stipulations to hide the identities of those who supply lethal drugs to the state.
Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska called it a win for open government.
“This is a victory for the thousands of Nebraskans who spoke out and opposed this misguided policy that attempted to shroud the death penalty in a cloak of secrecy,” Conrad said in an interview.
The secrecy provision was seen as a crucial element to the new protocol, as no domestic pharmaceutical firms will produce execution drugs and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned their importation.
With this in mind, state Senator John Kuehn, a Republican rancher from Heartwell, introduced legislation that would guarantee confidentiality for providers of lethal injection drugs.
It is not clear how the changes to the protocol made by corrections officials might influence his bill, LB 661, but Kuehn has said he intends to pursue passage of the bill regardless.
Previous protocols required three drugs – sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride – to be administered in precise order and dosage.
The new protocol removes restrictions on what drugs corrections officials can use, provided that “the substance or substances can be intravenously injected in a quantity sufficient to cause death without the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,” according to guidelines issued by corrections director Scott R. Frakes.
Frakes’ office declined to comment for this article.
Once the revised protocol is made official, a formality at this point, the secretary of state can ask the state supreme court to set an execution date for one of the 10 prisoners on Nebraska’s death row.
That would be just one more step in what promises to be a protracted legal battle to test the validity of the state’s new protocols.
Back in November, the ACLU vowed to continue the fight against the state’s effort to clear its death row backlog — it’s been nearly 20 years since Nebraska performed an execution.
ACLU director Conrad said much of the battle lies ahead.
“The death penalty remains a failed government program that is broken beyond repair. There are no quick fixes or easy answers when the state tinkers with the machinery of death,” she said.
Sixty percent of Nebraska voters approved Referendum 426 in November, to restore the death penalty.