Bill to shield lethal injection drug providers fails to advance out of Idaho Senate committee
House Bill 658 won’t go to the Senate floor after tie vote over transparency concerns
The Idaho State Capitol building reflected in the Joe R. Williams building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
A bill that would have given confidentiality to suppliers and manufacturers of lethal injection drugs in Idaho failed to advance out of a Senate committee on Wednesday on a tie vote.
House Bill 658 would have extended legal protection to any person or business responsible for compounding, synthesizing, testing, selling, manufacturing, storing or prescribing the chemicals or substances used for execution. The identity of a supplier would not be admissible as evidence or discoverable in any court proceedings, and individuals would not be subject to licensing board discipline for their involvement in carrying out the death penalty.
The bill is likely dead for the session.
According to previous reporting from the Idaho Capital Sun, Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, sponsored the bill and said on the House floor that 19 of 27 states that allow the death penalty have similar shield laws in place. Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt has said the state of Idaho is not able to obtain the necessary drugs for lethal injection because of the way Idaho law is written that does not protect the identities of suppliers.
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“As a functional matter, a ‘no’ vote on this ends the death penalty in Idaho; only firing squad and lethal injection are in our constitution as appropriate means of execution,” Chaney said during the floor debate.
Tewalt told the Senate committee the issue was not about being pro- or anti-death penalty, because the death penalty is an option under Idaho law. The Idaho Department of Correction is tasked with carrying out that punishment and cannot do so under existing law.
Teresa Molitor, a lobbyist testifying on behalf of the Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, asked the committee to oppose the bill.
“House Bill 658 is an admission that lethal injection only works if the public knows nothing about how it is carried out,” Molitor said. When a lethal injection process is botched, Molitor said, allowing secrecy around the suppliers of the drugs used “makes a bad method worse.”
Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, made a substitute motion to hold the bill in committee that failed on a tie vote. The motion to send it to the floor with a recommendation that it pass also failed on a tie, with Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, Sen. Christy Zito, R-Hammett and Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, voting against it.
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Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, was absent from the meeting.
Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, is chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee and said he supported the bill and those who were opposed were against the death penalty as a practice.
“The courts have determined lethal injection does not violate the constitution and is not cruel and unusual punishment in this context,” Lakey said. “For me, this is about supporting our public policy in Idaho.”
Zito said she is not against the death penalty, but she could not see how increasing secrecy and doing away with transparency in one of the gravest decisions made by the state could be a good thing. Wintrow and Burgoyne agreed it was about transparency, while Ricks did not comment on his vote.
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