Bill that could restart lethal injections in SC advances to Senate floor
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A bill that could restart lethal injections in South Carolina is now awaiting a debate at the State House.
A Senate committee advanced a shield law bill Thursday, which would keep drug manufacturers’ and pharmacies’ identities hidden if they sell the state lethal-injection drugs.
Right now, South Carolina has more than 30 inmates on death row and no way to legally carry out their executions.
Last week, the state Supreme Court said it was delaying a ruling on the legality of the electric chair and firing squad for up to four months, remanding the case down to a lower court to determine if South Carolina did enough to try to obtain the lethal-injection drugs. The Department of Corrections has repeatedly said it has not been able to procure them since its batch expired 10 years ago.
For now, South Carolina can’t carry out any of those methods of execution, and it hasn’t put any condemned inmates to death since 2011.
“Right now, what we’re trying to do is make sure we have all the tools that we can to carry out the laws in the state of South Carolina,” Sen. Shane Martin, R – Spartanburg and chair of the Corrections and Penology Committee, said during the meeting.
If drugmakers or compounding pharmacies sell South Carolina lethal-injection drugs, this bill would shield their identities from public disclosure.
On Thursday, the committee approved language designed to tighten that shield up even more before voting to give the bill a favorable report as it heads to the Senate floor in a 12-5 vote, with all Republicans and one Democrat on the panel voting in favor.
“To not be able to carry out that law really, in my view, does a disservice to the judicial system, it does a disservice to our citizens, and it does a disservice to the families of victims,” Sen. Greg Hembree, R – Horry and the bill’s sponsor, said.
Opponents have argued this bill would cloud government transparency, even keeping lawmakers themselves from knowing who the state is working with and how much money is going toward it.
One senator said he is worried the shield designed to protect drug suppliers could also prevent the state from adequately defending itself in lawsuits that could follow botched executions.
“It’s kind of like putting us in a football game. Everybody else got on pads and helmets, and we can’t even get a helmet, we can’t even get shoulder pads because this amendment will not allow us to compel disclosure or discovery,” Sen. Karl Alan, D – Greenville, said.
“Even with this language, I think that under the right circumstances, a court is going to, could pierce that shield,” Hembree responded.
But Hembree added he believes those circumstances would have to be exceptional, as determined by a judge.
“It’s not going to be just, ‘Well, we’re going to use this to challenge all death penalty cases,’ which is what’s been done in the past,” Hembree said.
The director of the state’s prison system, Bryan Stirling, testified earlier this bill would not guarantee South Carolina would be able to obtain the drugs, but without it, discussions with drugmakers and pharmacies are impossible.
Gov. Henry McMaster also called on the legislature to pass this shield law in his State of the State address last week, saying the state cannot keep waiting to carry out executions.
“We must give these grieving families and loved ones the justice and closure they are owed by law and tell the people of South Carolina that their government believes in the rule of law, just like they do,” McMaster said.
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