Bill that could restart lethal injections in SC likely headed to governor soon

A bill that could restart lethal injections in South Carolina will likely head to the governor’s desk soon.
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 8:39 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2023 at 9:24 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A bill that could restart lethal injections in South Carolina will likely head to the governor’s desk soon.

On Wednesday, the state’s House of Representatives gave second reading, essentially passing, to S.120 in a 75-21 vote largely along party lines.

The bill, which passed the Senate earlier this year in a 39-5 vote, would establish what’s known as a shield law in South Carolina.

Right now, the state has three methods of executing convicted inmates sentenced to die: firing squad, electric chair, and lethal injection.

The firing squad and electric chair are currently on hold pending a court review into their legality.

The state says it has not been able to get the drugs it needs for lethal injections since its batch expired a decade 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.

This bill would keep drug manufacturers’ and compounding pharmacies’ identities hidden from public disclosure if they sell South Carolina lethal injection drugs.

“Families of the victims cannot get closure because, not withstanding the fact that a sentence of execution has been handed down, we are unable to carry that out,” Rep. Weston Newton, R – Beaufort and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said during Wednesday’s debate.

The director of the state’s prisons system has said this bill would not guarantee South Carolina would be able to obtain the drugs, but without it, discussions are impossible.

Opponents argue enacting this would cloud government transparency, even keeping lawmakers themselves from knowing who the state is working with and how much money is going toward it.

“It really doesn’t matter whether you agree with the death penalty or disagree with the death penalty. Everybody, I think, can understand the problems that are created when government moves in secrecy,” Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, said.

“Both the bill and the amendment do require the state’s two financial offices work with the Department of Corrections so that the records are kept in a deidentified condition,” Newton responded, noting the bill defines “deidentified condition” as “data, records, or information from which identifying information is omitted or has been removed.”

Others contended this would prevent a full audit into the Department of Corrections, if the need arose.

“We’re doing more than just allowing the acquisition of drugs to administer this penalty. We’re giving away any oversight that the agency has over this process and essentially just letting it all be done in the dark: ‘Don’t tell us about it, we don’t want to know about it, just bring out a dead body,’” Rep. Will Wheeler, D – Lee, said.

House members amended the bill Wednesday to impose criminal penalties of up to three years in prison for people who violate this law.

They also added an explicit ban on members of the legislature, their immediate family, or businesses with which they’re associated from providing the drugs or medical supplies needed to carry out executions, though some supporters of the bill already noted this would be prohibited under current state ethics law.

“I want to make sure that none of us can profit from this shield law that we’re about to pass,” Rep. John King, D – York and the sponsor of the amendment, said.

The House and Senate versions of this bill are slightly different, so the chambers will have to work out a compromise to send to the governor.

Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry and the bill’s author, said Wednesday he was optimistic they would be able to reach an agreement.

Gov. Henry McMaster has repeatedly called on the General Assembly to pass a shield law, most recently during his State of the State address in January.

In a statement, a spokesman for the governor said Wednesday’s vote is “a great step towards finally giving these grieving families the long overdue closure they are owed by law.”