BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE/LSU Manship) - A Senate Committee struck down a bill Tuesday (May 28) on a 3-2 vote along partisan lines that would have concealed the names of companies that manufacture and provide drugs used in carrying out the death penalty.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond, said this proposed law would have ensured that the identity of the drug manufacturer remained secret.
The bill would have guaranteed absolute confidentiality to lethal drug providers in Louisiana executions. The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola is the only facility in the state where the death sentence can be carried out.
Since 2000, seven people on death row in Louisiana have been exonerated and two people have been executed. There have been no executions in the state since 2010.
In the committee, at the heart of the hour-long debate were questions about government transparency versus information discretion.
The bill previously passed the House floor in a 68-31 vote earlier this month.
Michelle Ghetti, deputy solicitor general with the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, spoke in favor of the proposal. Ghetti said that by masking the provider’s identity, the bill could help prevent safety threats against execution drug providers and pharmacies, referring to cases in Oklahoma and Texas.
Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, who spoke in opposition of the bill, contended that Ghetti was using isolated cases to make a broader argument.
“I do appreciate when you come to the committee and drop some of the most inflammatory language possible for maximum effect,” Morrell said.
Robert Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke in opposition of the bill.
“When you’re dealing with the most harsh punishment that a state can hand out, which is the taking of a life,” Tasman told committee members. “There ought to be complete transparency and accountability in the process.”
Mercedes Montagnes, executive director at the Promise of Justice Initiative, said the proposed legislation would have removed critical information about the manufacturer and this would have violated the public’s right to know.
“[The proposal] attempts to take away the one check, the litigation, that would verify the source of a drug,” Montagnes said.
Kevin Hayes, representing the Louisiana Press Association, said the issue was about keeping the justice system accountable to the public.
“We are not here about the death penalty,” Hayes said. “This is not what this is about. This is about transparency.”
Since legislators deferred the bill, they effectively shut down the proposal for this legislative session because there is no time for Muscarello to present it again before the committee.
Louisiana is one of 31 states where capital punishment is legal.
Legislators have tried, unsuccessfully, during this legislative session to pass bills that would eliminate the death penalty in the state.
The Senate rejected a bill to abolish the death penalty from Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican, in a 25-13 vote. Claitor’s bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, would have included the bill on the 2020 presidential ballot for voters to decide.
Another bill that would have abolished the death sentence, sponsored by Landry, was also rejected in the House earlier this month.